In Our View: A Moment, a Day and All Year

True meaning of Memorial Day is not limited by clocks or calendars

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The drawing to the right leaves no doubt: Today, a grateful nation mourns. Americans pause to honor those who died protecting the freedoms enjoyed in the greatest nation ever.That priority must prevail, more so than any of the trivialities that come with a three-day weekend.

If there is a growing apathy about Memorial Day in America, as many suggest, it very likely was accelerated by an act of Congress in 1971 that changed the annual observance from May 30 to the last Monday in May, for reasons that had little if anything to do with mourning our fallen heroes. The purpose was to ensure Americans a three-day holiday. It was a rather crass departure from Memorial Day's intended purpose, but the change drew relatively little protest from the public.

We doubt if that change will ever be reversed, and that's sad if you know much about the late Daniel Inouye, who was a soft-spoken veteran of World War II. Prior to his death last Dec. 12, the Democratic U.S. senator from Hawaii each year (starting in 1989) introduced a bill that would return Memorial Day to its original observance on May 30. The bill has never advanced beyond the committee level.

If this change cannot be reversed, as appears likely, and as the calendar irregularity of Memorial Day continues, then at least Americans can take consolation in a bit of consistency that was injected into this day of mourning by Congress in 2001. The Moment of Remembrance legislation signed by President Bill Clinton encourages government personnel "and Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all."

That is our recommendation for today, three days before the traditional May 30 observance. Set your alarms if necessary. And as the vagaries of Memorial Day scheduling continue, at least the constancy of a 3 p.m. observance can live on.

If you are interested in joining the efforts to return Memorial Day observance to May 30, visit http://usmemorialday.org. There, you will find a 2001 email sent to the website from one Paul Patist of the Netherlands: "In 1999, I laid flowers at the grave of a young U.S. fighter pilot who was KIA in my village in 1945. In the Netherlands I know of schools 'adopting' graves of Allied servicemen, keeping those graves in excellent condition! Does anybody know of adopting graves in the U.S. by schools?" And as the website asks: "How many graves of our fallen do we in America leave dishonored by leaving their resting places forgotten and neglected?"

Inouye was correct in 1999 when he declared that, in the rush to make Memorial Day a consistent three-day holiday, "we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer." Restoring the original May 30 observance "would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our nation."

Again, though, Inouye's dream, no doubt shared by many, remains only that as practicalities of a demanding public prevail. But one way to remedy any growing complacency would be to adhere to the recommendations of the Moment of Remembrance.

Mark it down: 3 p.m. today. Let us pay our respects as grateful Americans.