Cutbacks in the military budget and the still-recovering economy mean this Memorial Day weekend will go down as a relatively subdued affair — relative, that is, to our usual end-of-school, official-start-of-summer blowout.
The weekend will pass without many of the usual flyovers and military bands.
Sponsors of Memorial Day events say they are having trouble rounding up corporate sponsors, particularly among defense contractors, and in a chilling reminder of the Boston Marathon bombing, security costs have gone up all over, especially wherever crowds gather.
The travel association AAA says , 31.2 million Americans will be driving to weekend destinations, and merchants of the still-rebuilding Jersey Shore are anxiously, desperately hoping for that first wave of summer visitors.
In Washington, D.C., where the National Memorial Day Parade has had to be scaled down because of cuts to the Defense Department budget, a local paper’s annual Memorial Day weekend supplement, traditionally devoted to ideas for summer fun, instead has features on preparing for power outages, basement flooding, high winds and grill fires.
But these are only distractions from a day meant to honor those who have fought in America’s wars, a long, distinguished line stretching back to the American Revolution.
The instant cause for Memorial Day was the Civil War, whose death toll was 620,000 — a brutal tally considering that the American population was only about 31.4 million.
The unofficial, generally local ceremonies honoring those dead were more formalized in what was to be a day of remembrance, May 30, per the official proclamation by Gen. John Alexander Logan in 1868.
The commemoration came to be called Memorial Day, with the federal legal holiday being the last Monday in May. It was expanded to include all of the U.S. dead: from wars traumatic and transformative, like World War II and Vietnam; wars obscure, like the Sumatran pirate expeditions; to wars ongoing, like the Afghanistan conflict, now America’s longest.
Memorial Day asks little of us. Lay some flowers on a military grave. You need not know who’s in it, only that the person was called and served. And at 3 p.m. local time Monday, observe a minute of silence by way of remembrance. This Memorial Day may be a little lighter on the parades, pageantry and flyovers, but it should be no less inspiring.