Column: Patriotism key to Memorial Day

Michael Warren

What are your plans this Memorial Day weekend? Common answers likely include a barbecue, house cleaning, a short trip, or, of course, a hunt for good sales. Very few of us will be decorating the graves of our honored dead. What has befallen Memorial Day is a national travesty.

On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, promulgated General Order No. 11, which was the first official promulgation of Memorial Day. General Order No. 11 provided that flowers be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers on May 30, 1868.

In his “The Destiny of America” Memorial Day speech in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge remarked, “Our country ... has not decreed this memorial season as an honor to war, with its terrible waste and attendant train of suffering and hardship ... Yet war is not the worse of evils, and these days have been set apart to do honor to all those, now gone, who made the cause of America their supreme choice. Some fell with the words of Patrick Henry, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ almost ringing in their ears.”

Coolidge explained that “It is the spirit of these men, exhibited in all our wars, to the spirit that places the devotion to freedom and truth above the devotion to life, that the nation pays its ever enduring mark of reverence and respect. ... That spirit is not dead, it is the most vital thing in America.” Indeed.

In his order, Logan reflected he hoped the Memorial Day would become an annual tradition, and it has. With World War I, that tradition expanded to include all war dead; eventually it became a recognized holiday celebrated each May 30. Unfortunately, the “ravages of time” have yielded not only neglect, but near amnesia. In 1971, the fatal error occurred — the Uniform Monday Holiday Act fixed the celebration of Memorial Day to the last Monday of May. Congress, bungling its own creation, corrupted it with a three-day weekend. The “most sacred day of the year” was perverted into an empty excuse for barbecues, sales, and mini-vacations.

We can do better. This Memorial Day, join Patriot Week and the Revolution Flag Foundation in restoring a Detroit park dedicated to the honor of one of our sacred dead — Sgt. Sylvester Dueweke, who lost his life when his B-29 bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a World War II combat mission. This sacred place, like so many, has fallen into disrepair — and a few minutes of your time can help us restore it as a proper memorial.

Still, to hope that Memorial Day will ever entirely recover its original meaning for most is a hopeless cause; the commercialization and habits of generations have undermined it too much. That is why my then 10-year-old daughter Leah and I created Patriot Week — with the hope of establishing a new civic calendar to renew the spirit of America.

Patriot Week celebrates the First Principles, Founding Fathers and other patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history.

Like Memorial Day, most of our current civic holidays have become overly commercialized and lost their deeper meaning. We need to invigorate our appreciation and understanding of America’s spirit. Anchored by the key dates of September 11 (the anniversary of the terrorist attacks) and September 17 (Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution), Patriot Week does just that.

Patriot Week is a grassroots effort that is spreading in Michigan and elsewhere.

Without such a civic renewal, we are doomed to lose “that spirit,” that “most vital thing in America.” With the waning of the spirit of the people, America dies. Help us.

Michael Warren is an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge and author of America’s Survival Guide.