Commentary: Why I’m Celebrating Memorial Day Differently This Year

by John Elliot


Paul Ellsworth says that he used to resent Memorial Day. Writing in Medium, he notes that by celebrating this holiday he felt he was somehow putting down other countries. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” particularly irritated him.

But now Ellsworth has changed his mind. One line of Greenwood’s hit song played a role in that:

And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me

Ellsworth explains:

This was the year that it hit me the most. I guess because I have a lot of hope for my life. My writing is starting to get some attention. My sons and I are starting to connect on a deeper level. I am making connections with friends and family in a way that I haven’t made in years. I am working at a job that I absolutely love. All of these are privileges that I get to have because someone sacrificed those same blessings.

American soldiers gave up all of these things — family, friends, and career — so that Ellsworth, and each of us, could enjoy them.

Recognizing this, Ellsworth writes:

Thank you, soldiers, who have died.

Thank you, families, who have given up your loved ones.

Thank you, soldiers, active, retired, on and off the field.

He concludes:

So, on this day of summer, cookouts, swimming pools, and sales, I invite you with me to take the time to slow down and to intentionally feel the sacrifice of soldiers who fight for your freedom.

Unlike Ellsworth, I have never had a problem with Memorial Day. I’ve always thought of it as an important American holiday.

I also often think about the sacrifice of our soldiers. My family has fought in every war in this nation’s history. My great-great-grandfather, Simon Weatherman (at right), volunteered for the Fourth Kansas Cavalry in 1861. On April 6th, 1862, his unit attacked the Confederate lines at Shiloh, one of the most vicious battles of the bloodiest of America’s wars. He lost an eye that day.

My great-grandmother — Weatherman’s daughter — was a member of the “Grand Army of the Republic” and laid a wreath at military graveyards each Memorial Day. I still remember that.

My uncle and father are veterans of World War II and Korea. My sister served in the Iraq War of 2003.

But Ellsworth’s article challenged me, because in recent years I have rarely celebrated the day. For some reason or another Memorial Day has become a day of reading or chores. A year ago, for example, I hired window washers to do the whole house on Memorial Day.

But not this year. I have resolved to attend my local Memorial Day parade and then drive to Fort Snelling where the military cemetery is located.

This year it will be different. I will not only think about our soldiers. I am going to do something about it.

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John is a Senior Fellow at Intellectual Takeout. In this role, he is responsible for directing seminars, organizing networking events and mentoring Intellectual Takeout’s journalism interns.

John previously directed the journalism programs at the Institute for Humane Studies and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He has many mentees at media outlets in New York and Washington. John got his journalism experience working for Dutch and German television. He covered four presidential elections as well as breaking news stories such as 9/11 in New York City.

John has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in New York City and a B.A. in German from the University of Montana. He also studied at the Universitaet Tuebingen in Germany and the Theological College of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.







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