Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Memorial Day Embodies the Meaning of Patriotism

By: Daniel Applegate
President, Arlington Memorial Gardens

In a radically divisive age, when the country is often at odds with itself and its people frequently find themselves aghast at what comes from Washington and passes as governance; and, fragmented by what comes from the airwaves and passes as news, there is only the rare occasional moment when Americans come together to demonstrate a true sense of national cohesiveness.

On the Fourth of July, the country is distinctly united in celebrating the dual blessing of independence and democracy.  To a lesser degree, the nation’s patriotic fever momentarily spikes on November 11th in observing Veterans Day.  As a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I can vividly recall the perceptible fervor that was so deeply imbued in the annual patriotic observance of Pearl Harbor Day. And of course, the events of September 11th stirred the passions of patriotism like no other single event in my lifetime. Yet, year in and year out, many Americans reserve their most lusty patriotic embrace for Memorial Day.

Why so? After all, Memorial Day is a profoundly solemn day of reflection, a stark contrast to the much more ebullient celebrations that have become synonymous with Independence Day. Oh, how we Americans love those picnics, parties, fireworks and good times!  But then, that’s precisely the point: patriotism isn’t really about parties and fun, is it? In fact, even though we’re often guilty of reducing it to simple, and simplistic, aphorisms like “America: Love it or Leave it,” patriotism is a much more complicated than that.
These complexities have been acknowledged by adherents all across the political spectrum. For example, Ron Paul has said, “True patriotism has been more closely linked to dissent than it is to conformity and a blind desire for safety and security.” And, George McGovern, a stalwart from the opposite side of the aisle said much the same thing: “The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.” So, aside from the simple, and often simple-minded, adages that merely serve as thought pollution, defining patriotism usually is profoundly more complex than it appears on the surface.

But sometimes it’s not. Memorial Day recognizes the purest form of patriotism. It’s an uncontested moment in time, a day on our calendar that beckons us to remember and to pay homage to those who have sacrificed their life in the service of their country, a calling that is the embodiment of the ultimate fulfillment of patriotic duty.

With its lineage dating back to the Civil War, Memorial Day is much more than merely one-third of a three day weekend. It’s this nation’s better nature at work; and, a collective post-it note. It’s also a reverential gift to those who, by giving their lives, have earned their country’s eternal admiration. As millions of Americans trek to cemeteries all across the country, in every village, town and city, we do so because we are a grateful people and because, as Lincoln said speaking at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

Arlington Memorial Gardens hosts a series of events annually to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the veterans who so proudly serve our country. See our Memorial Day schedule.

Daniel Applegate became part of the Arlington Memorial Gardens organization in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state cemetery association.  He was appointed by Ohio Governor George Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science.