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Memorial Day in Utah is Celebrated Just Right

Monday , June 04, 2018 - 1:08 PM

REP. STEVE HANDY
Guest Columnist

Ah, Memorial Day … a day to pay respect to our kindred dead and enjoy a three-day weekend even as the holiday ushers in summer activities and vacations.

I was feeling pretty good about my Memorial Day activities as I ate my bowl of Golden Puffs Tuesday morning.

My Saturday started with a visit to the Kaysville Cemetery as I joined with the descendants of Elias Adams, a veteran of The War of 1812, who is buried there as we learned about his remarkable life. Next, we met my wife’s sister and husband and traveled to the Ogden Cemetery to remember and reminisce about their folks. We paid tribute to my brother-in-law, a Vietnam Vet, who is buried there. It was overall a fine experience.

Sunday night, I had the opportunity to speak at a program sponsored by Lindquist Mortuaries and Cemeteries at their facility in Layton. My remarks were entitled, “Why Remembering World War I Is Important.” Then, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band performed several bagpipe numbers and Scottish dancers in their cute kilts danced some merry jigs. Seated under a canopy, attendees looked out over the peaceful cemetery as families gathered to leave flowers at the graves of their loved ones. It was a very pleasant evening.

And on Monday, my wife and I met my sisters and a brother-in-law at the North Ogden Cemetery where our parents and grandparents and other relatives are buried. We pulled out our lawn chairs and enjoyed an hour talking about their lives and “remembering the good times,” as my Dad would say.

But those good feelings hit a skid when I read a Letter-to-the Editor from Natalie Haught Six of Ogden Tuesday morning, May 29, entitled, “The Meaning of Memorial Day.”

Early in the letter Ms. Haught Six proceeded to make the case that Utahns go overboard in their observance of the holiday. How? “The last weekend of May sees grocery stores stocked with mums and cemeteries blanketed in flowers and flags. Wow, so many American war victims buried in Utah!?? I had no idea,” she sarcastically wrote.

In fact, Haught Six, a transplant from the fair Commonwealth of Virginia, wrote that she “cringes” at the way Utahns celebrate not only Memorial Day, but Halloween and Christmas as well. What? About that time, my spoon slipped out of my hand and plunked into my bowl of now soggy cereal!

She is correct in her recounting of the history of what was originally Decoration Day to commemorate Civil War dead and eventually all United States’ casualties of war. Right also about the eventual change to Memorial Day and ensconced as an official three-day federal holiday in 1971.

But how wrong she is to imply that Utahns have distorted the “true meaning” of Memorial Day into something unnatural.

I’ve been going to the cemetery from as far back as I can remember on Memorial Day. In fact, I’m old enough to remember when it was called Decoration Day.

And yes, I visited four cemeteries over three days and in each cemetery there were American flags posted at the graves of veterans. How fitting. But I didn’t think anything of it nor do I find it unnatural that while we’re honoring veterans we’re also honoring our kindred dead. It should be that way and will stay that way.

But I also admit that it is a challenge to keep the memories alive because it is a three-day holiday. There is travel, and recreating, and barbecues and shopping. In fact, in my remarks Sunday night I quoted a story from the New York Times from a couple of years ago:

“Monday is the day to pause and give a moment of respect to those who fought and died in behalf of our nation. Hopefully, a time to remember can be found in the din of holiday sales pitches!”

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge who vowed to celebrate Christmas right until the end of his days, I make the same pledge to honor not only America’s Veterans on Memorial Day but also my kindred dead as well.

So, Ms. Haught Six, welcome to Utah. We’re not weird. And by the way, has anyone introduced you to funeral potatoes and green Jell-O yet? Get ready to really cringe.

Steve Handy is a Republican state representative, representing Layton.

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