Memorial Day was originally established to remember those who died fighting for the Union Armies during The Civil War. Eventually, Memorial Day included all those who had given their lives for their country in all wars. The holiday is always observed on the last Monday of the month of May.
We celebrate Memorial Day in America in many ways. Flags are flown on downtown streets and are places on the graves of the fallen in National Cemeteries. Families get together and have BBQs, picnics, or go camping. When I was growing up, there was a Memorial Day parade in my small town with floats, the high school band, Shriners, and all the veterans in the community marching together. Yet, it often appears Memorial Day is more about celebrating the beginning of summer and things like shopping for specials, than honoring those who died serving our country.
I was recently in Israel when they observed their Memorial Day. To be honest, it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. My friend and I were eating supper in my rented apartment in Tel Aviv when a siren sounded at 8:00 PM. She had told me beforehand that we should stand and remain standing until the siren ended. We stood silently with our heads bowed until the one minute siren ended. That was the official start to what is called, “Yom Hazikaron” (Day of Remembrance).
In fact, the whole nation stopped for that minute of silence at 8:00 PM. Cars, buses, people walking, those in sidewalk cafés, everything stopped and everyone stood until the siren stopped.
After the siren ended, we resumed eating out meal, but there was a different energy in the room as she told me more about the Israeli Memorial Day, a day dedicated to all who died that now includes not only those who died while serving in the military but civilian victims of political violence.
At 11:00 am the next morning, while I was having a late breakfast in the local Bistro I visited every morning, the siren sounded again. And again, everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed their heads. Shop keepers walked out of their shops and stood reverently with their hands folded; traffic on the street stopped; the whole nation again stopped to observed the two minute siren. And once again, the energy shifted after to something more subdued. During the course of the day, one of the television stations showed the names of all those who had died during the previous twelve months.
This national collective remembering and mourning touched me deeply. And there were parades, ceremonies, military aircraft flyovers like in America. But these moments of stopping and remembering as a nation, it made me think that perhaps this is something we need in America now. To remember our fallen heroes collectively with more than words, but with a national collective act that could hopefully bring us closer together as a nation and also remind us that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice deserve the nation’s collective attention where we all stop our too busy lives and really reflect, and remember.
And we who have trained in the martial arts should also hold a special reverence for the fallen, having in our own ways experienced both victories, and defeats while training, and perhaps gaining a special understanding of what it means to walk in harm’s way.