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Memorial Day: It's Not Just for Heroes, Anymore

To the long list of liberal non sequiturs, such as “Pro-Child, Pro-Choice,” we can mark this Memorial Day weekend by adding “Support the Troops: Bring Them Home.”

That's the message from former Sen. John Edwards, whose Web site, http://www.supportthetroopsendthewar.com, is urging people to crash Memorial Day ceremonies and parades with anti-war protests. He's even asking people to take pictures of it all and post them to his Web site. What nifty souvenirs!

We're still waiting for the media outrage over this hijacking of a sacred day to honor the war dead.

Can you imagine being a U.S. Marine and going out today on a mission in Fallujah, Iraq, searching for the killers in the latest civilian massacre, and hearing that a prominent U.S. politician is urging people to hijack Memorial Day for political protests?

Would you feel “supported?”

Paul Morin, national commander of the American Legion, was blunt about Edwards' crassness: “Revolting is a kind word for it. It's as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone,” he said in a press release.

“Edwards is hardly the first politician from either political party to exploit this day, a holiday that was consecrated with the blood of American heroes. But the e-mail makes me sick nonetheless.”

Memorial Day was established when Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed a day of remembrance for the Civil War dead on May 5, 1868.  On May 30, 1868, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  One by one, the states began marking the day until Congress made it a national holiday in 1971.

The holiday is very specific: It is a day set aside to honor those who have made the supreme sacrifice for their fellow American citizens. 

Apart from Edwards' attempt to use Memorial Day as one more way to bash the Iraq war effort, others are chipping away at the holiday's unique character.  In USA Today, for example, columnist Craig Wilson summed up Memorial Day Weekend as, “the opportunity to remember people who are gone, who were taken not only through war but by the passage of time.” Well, that would be everybody, right? We're all going to die someday. So much for honoring the brave soldiers who lost their lives so that we can live in peace.

It's similar to abandoning special recognition of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln by creating Presidents Day. Who cares? They're all winners! Why differentiate between Jimmy Carter and the Father of Our Country?

Instead of protesting the war or watering down the meaning of Memorial Day, there are far better ways to observe it. Here are a few.

On Thursday, members of the Third U.S. Infantry placed small American flags on the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Ceremony.  They've been doing this since the 1950s, and some of the volunteers remain behind as guards 24 hours a day so that all flags are flying on Memorial Day.

At Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are placing candles at the more than 15,000 grave sites. 

American Legion Commander Morin offered these suggestions: “Attend a parade without the divisive political signs. Make cards for the comrades of the fallen that are recuperating in military and VA hospitals. Lay a wreath at the stone of a departed hero.”

The National Memorial Day Parade will take place Monday at 2 p.m. in Washington, D.C. and feature veterans from every war beginning with World War I and up to Iraq and Afghanistan, and with heroes from World War II, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, Doolittle's Raiders and the Flying Tigers. The Grand Marshal will be actor and veterans' activist Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump.  In addition, the G.I. Film Fest at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. from May 26-28 will feature great movies all weekend that highlight American bravery.

Cities and towns across America will hold ceremonies and parades honoring the war dead. More information about Memorial Day events and history can be found here.  

It's worth a look, and it's a lot more inspiring than Mr. Edwards' “Support the Troops, Surrender Now” site.

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.