Just outside of Milwaukee, the quiet village of Rochester, Wisconsin has put on a Memorial Day Parade every year since 1867, making it the nation’s longest ongoing observance of Memorial Day. For one-hundred and fifty-six years, this community of less than five-thousand has joined together to honor the fallen servicemen and women of our country, replete with period-accurate musket salutes and wreath ceremonies.
Meant to remind the postbellum country of the commitment and sacrifice of their family and neighbors who had died to end slavery and save the Union, Memorial Day has developed over time to honor any soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
Uniform Monday Holiday Act
However, that has not been the only change that the holiday has undergone. In 1968, the federal government passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a move which drew ire from many veterans and veterans-rights activists. Critics accused Congress of bowing to the whims of the travel industry that wanted more three-day weekends for federal employees for them to book trips and drive up profits. They feared that such a change would cause people to forget the raison d’être of Memorial Day – a somber tribute to lives lost in defense of liberty.
Whether as a direct result of the Act or a combination of it and other cultural factors, Memorial Day is for many simply a three-day weekend, the unofficial starting gun for summer exultation. This is no knock against those who enjoy the holiday; many a hero laid down their life so that their friends and family might imbibe that rich nectar of freedom.
It would still behoove us to remember where and from what that freedom derives – freedom is not free, as the saying goes. Perhaps every Memorial Day we should strive to achieve a nuanced view of the event as a time to reflect on the cost but also enjoy the gift, to appreciate the sacrifices of brave heroes in thought and in deed. Perhaps even to bring a bit of Rochester, Wisconsin to Texas.
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Bryce Griffin is a third-year J.D. student at Baylor University School of Law, and completed his undergraduate in Philosophy and Political Science at Baylor University. He is looking forward to entering the estate planning legal field upon graduation and passing the Bar.