For three decades now on the last Monday of May, Bill Brater has gathered in the chapel of the funeral home he manages in Statesville, North Carolina, for what he considers one of the most important ceremonies of the year.
Joining a crowd of about 250 residents ranging from politicians to schoolteachers, Brater has watched as military veterans post the colors of the American flag and people offer songs (“God Bless America” is a popular choice) and prayers (a pastor will recite John 8:31-32 this year) for those who have died while on duty. Afterwards, the group spreads across cemeteries for wreath-laying ceremonies on veterans’ graves.
It’s the kind of event seen in small towns and big cities across the U.S., with some accompanied by patriotic parades, every Memorial Day since the holiday’s first observations after the Civil War. But Brater, whose father fought in the Korean War and whose son served as a Navy Seal, has noticed a growing pattern over the years.
“It’s tending to skew toward the senior side for people who show up. There aren’t many in their 20s and only a few in their 30s,” said the 59-year-old, who has taken to putting ads in the Statesville Record & Landmark newspaper to entice people to come to the ceremony that once spread by word-of-mouth. “It’s just sad, I’m not sure how many people care or understand.”
As the federal government pauses on Monday in recognition of the only American holiday dedicated to the memory of those who died while on duty, offering dramatic graveside ceremonies and moments of silence, much of the country will simply carry on as usual. According to recent surveys, less than 5 percent of Americans plan to attend a parade, be part of a memorial service or visit gravesites on what was originally called Decoration Day for its tradition of putting flowers on graves.
President Barack Obama will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, but many Americans can’t recall what Memorial Day is exactly about.
In a 2000 Gallup poll that asked Americans to define the holiday, the most recent survey on the topic, only 28 percent of people correctly said it was about remembering those who died while serving in the military. In many areas, Memorial Day may be better known for its sales and spikes in DUIs.
“For a lot of people, it’s just a day of fun, a day off. Maybe they go to the beach or on vacation,” said Brater, who dutifully spent each Memorial Day while growing up in Cincinnati at the cemetery with his parents. “Things change.”
It wasn’t always that way.
SOURCE: Jaweed Kaleem