What Happened to the Point of Memorial Day?

I don't know what "Make America Great Again" means but -- on Memorial Day at least -- we can probably think more about what makes America great in the first place, and those who sacrifice everything to keep it that way.
  1. A New Jersey town close to mine schedules two big events for Memorial Day. One is a large parade of military officers, veterans, local officials, and the high school marching band. The other is a charity rubber duck race in the local stream. Guess which gets more attention?
  2. So far as I can tell, rubber duckies have nothing in common with soldiers, unless Sesame Street's bathtub-loving Ernie is a veteran. But equally disconnected are the traditional Memorial Day sales at the mall, Memorial Day "Top 500" radio countdowns, and Memorial Day barbecues.
  3. In "War on Christmas" terms, it seems someone took the G.I. Joe out of Memorial Day.
  4. My late Grandpa Ruby used to proudly show off the muscles he earned schlepping a bazooka around Germany in World War II. He'd also talk of a Nazi luger he “found” in his travels. My grandmother made him get rid of it, but know that was way before eBay.
  5. As I imagine my grandfather’s experience, I fill in the blanks with scenes from "Saving Private Ryan." It's the closest thing I have to a personal association with war. Plus who doesn't want Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in their family?
  6. My children are even less connected. Their main point of reference for armed struggle involves Captain America and Iron Man. Growing up, they were oblivious to violent conflict... except as it pertained to turns on the computer.
  7. But living, breathing images of the military are all around us; at least, all around me. In New York City’s Penn Station you’ll find as many soldiers as donut stores — and there are a lot of donut stores.
  8. Heavily armed, these heroes are largely relegated to helping tourists find the bathroom or closest ATM. But I’m inclined to shake their hands and thank them for their service. My personal forfeits for democracy are puny by comparison, so I can probably withstand a little stranger-anxiety to show appreciation on the one day it's most appropriate.
  9. Let's also not pair respect for our military with scoring political points. A soldier's mission may be up for debate, but his sacrifice is unimpeachable.
  10. What Memorial Day really needs is just a better ratio of reverence to revelry. It doesn’t take much: A word with your kids. A renewed gratitude for our country's defenders. A handshake or pat on the back for a service member.
  11. So go ahead and light the grill, cheer for your ducks, and tackle the mall. But also stop and think about those who willingly put themselves in harm's way so that you and I may never have to.