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Memorial Day, More Important Today

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard F. Keevey
May 26, 2023

Memorial Day is a very solemn day—one all Americans should remember and celebrate. It is a day to recall those who sacrificed and died in our nation’s service.

The day was originally dedicated to honoring Civil War soldiers; it was expanded after World War I to honor all who served this nation. Today, of course, we honor all the men and women who died—and who continue to die—defending our freedom.

I remember when I was a child and we decorated the spokes of our bikes with red and blue crepe paper and joined a parade—proudly waving small American flags. Each year in our community people of all ages joined our local parade. We arrived at a designated memorial, said a few prayers and listened to speeches about our brave soldiers.

Today only 28 percent of Americans even know what Memorial Day is about. And less than 5 percent plan to observe it. Why did these brave warriors give their lives? The answer is surely enumerated in the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States—otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.

But perhaps President Franklin Roosevelt summarized it best in his “Four Freedoms” speech. They fought and died for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

We live in a wonderful country. To quote Willie Nelson, “I am proud to be an American.” Do we have blemishes? Have we made mistakes? Has every international war or encounter been necessary—obviously, recent ones have not? We do have blemishes, but we remain the beacon for the world. Consider, for example, two important hallmarks that set us aside from other nations:

  • We were the first nation to separate church and state. Some argue we should change this—but they are incorrect. Our doctrine is not against religion; rather, it has a much deeper meaning. Just observe today’s world and history. It demonstrates that separation of church and state is truly critical to our form of democracy and to reinforce individual religious beliefs.
  • We were the first truly universal nation. We have invited a diverse group of people to our shores. Yes, we have stumbled—and unfortunately, we still do—but our principles are strong. And even when blind prejudice raises its ugly head as it does today, we have succeeded. We have and must continue to welcome the “huddled masses.”

There were many challenges as we struggled through two centuries. Bigotry, racism, bullying and religious fanaticism were false idols, but we always addressed them. These actions are demand–driven and inaction-driven phenomena and can only be addressed by overcoming our passivity toward these abuses. Americans need to stand for goodness.

It took 200 years of growing pains, for example, to accept African Americans more fully. The “I Have a Dream Speech” of Dr. Martin Luther King enabled us to address these wrongs. But as a nation we know we still have more to do.

A final thought about a current “wart.” Addressing it will make America better. We need to correct our election laws. Specifically:

  • We need to fix the way we finance election campaigns. In the early 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt was a leader in correcting campaign financing. Today, money buys too much: The Citizens United Supreme Court decision is bad for America. We need to get money out of elections.
  • We need to standardize and expand the way we register to vote as a growing number of states limit voter participation.
  • We need to stop gerrymandering so only certain parties can win certain districts. Today, only 50 seats in Congress are truly competitive.
  • Finally, we need a National Day for Voting—perhaps a Saturday—so every American can find it easy to vote and then go home and celebrate being an American.

What better way to honor the brave men and women who died for this nation than to ensure that all Americans have an equal vote for freedom?

A personal reflection. Have you ever visited the cemeteries in Europe where our soldiers are buried? My wife and I have. And, on each occasion—in Luxemburg, Belgium or Normandy—we could not help but shed a tear and say a prayer. Nothing is more moving than viewing where courageous Americans and our allies ended the brutality of Nazism and extremism.

Maybe some of you lost a father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, son or daughter. To you a special prayer on Memorial Day. To the rest of us, let us simply remember the unselfish sacrifice of those soldiers, sailors, aviators, marines and members of the Coast Guard who throughout our history have given so much to ensure our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Greatness is well within our reach, and it is the only responsible homage for those who have sacrificed so much in the service to the country.

Author: Rich held two presidential appointments as the CFO at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the deputy undersecretary of the Department of Defense. He was appointed by two New Jersey governors as state budget director. He was the executive officer for a nuclear missile unit in Europe in the 1960’s. He is currently a senior policy fellow at Rutgers University, and lecturer at Princeton University.           

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2 Responses to Memorial Day, More Important Today

  1. Barbara Neuby Ph.D Reply

    May 29, 2023 at 10:10 am

    Author is correct about why the public should remember and observe Memorial Day. If you don’t remember and respect it, even worse reasons for doing so will occur.

  2. Patrick brannigan Reply

    May 26, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    Wonderful article! Thank you Rich for the article and your service in the military, state and federal government and the academe. Pat zbrannigan

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