Too many people today tend to think of Memorial Day as the three-day weekend when the pools open and the grill gets fired up for the first time of the season. But, of course, it is a lot more significant than that.
The holiday, you may know, was originally known as Decoration Day, when flowers were laid on the graves of the Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate. After World War I, observances began to honor all who had died in any of America’s wars. Today, amidst family picnics, the end of school, and, yes, the opening of pools, there are still many observances of the solemn nature of the day. Flags are lowered to half-staff from dawn until noon and many communities observe a moment of remembrance in ceremonies throughout the nation.
I have been working on a book entitled How to Raise an American. In the book my co-author Chriss Winston and I not only explain why instilling patriotism in the young can be so very challenging these days; we also give lots of practical suggestions about how to deal with this situation. Some of our ideas, we think, will help parents make their kids understand the meaning of our country’s most important holidays.
What are some the things you can do with your kids this Memorial weekend? Here are just a few suggestions:
‐One friend of ours who lives in Washington, D.C., takes his young children to the Vietnam Memorial at dawn each Memorial Day. It has become a family tradition, and every year, as his children grow, so does their understanding of the meaning behind this holiday. But you don’t have to be in Washington to honor those who have served our country so honorably and with such courage. Almost every community has a war memorial where you could take your children for a silent salute.
‐There are also many observances at military bases, in churches, and put on by veterans’ organizations throughout the country. Your best bet to find out what’s happening in your area is to check with your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.
‐Remember those who fought and lived to tell about it. Have your children take some flowers, books, and cookies to a near-by veterans’ hospital, or invite a family member or friend who is a veteran to your holiday barbeque and ask them, if they are comfortable doing so, to tell the children about their experiences in the service.
‐Watch a TV show about our fighting men and the most famous battles of the past. This year the History Channel is premiering a new movie, Washington the Warrior, on Memorial Day.
‐Of course, war movies may be too much for younger kids, so try some craft activities with them instead. Have them design a poster to mark the day or a postage stamp to honor our soldiers. Very young kids can print out and color the flags of the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy, which can be found on www.enchantedlearning.com. And on the web site www.billybear4kids.com, they can print out “God Bless America” book marks, stationery, and a symbol for their web page if they would like to design one honoring our soldiers for the day.
‐You can also print out a Medal Of Honor Coloring Book from the web at www.homeofheroes.com/coloringbook. It gives the history of the Medal of Honor and tells the stories of those bravest soldiers who won our country’s highest award.
‐In case they want to make a medal of their own, they can do that, too. Click on www.va.gov/kids/k-5/medal.asp and kids can create their own version of a Silver or Bronze Star. Ask them what act of bravery they think would deserve such a medal.
‐It is also really important that you and your kids do something special to support our troops, especially those wounded in battle. For a place to start, go to the web site www.Americasupportsyou.mil, where you’ll find a list of over 150 organizations that support the military and their families. On the site, you can also read messages from the troops which tell you how important the support of those back home really is. One such message we read was from a soldier in the 101st Airborne. He wrote from Iraq, “I would like I to say God bless those who care about me and all the troops that are deployed. I tell you that this is the fourth deployment for the 101st in Iraq and it is a good feeling to know someone out there cares about us. It makes all the difference.” Your children could be helping make that difference.
‐And if you live around New York City, do me a personal favor and attend one of the events of Fleet Week. During Memorial weekend you can visit ships such as the USS Anzio and USS Ramage at Pier 88 in Manhattan, or the USS Shreveport and USS Nitze which are docked at Stapleton Pier in Staten Island. There are also Navy Band concerts, Marine Corps helicopter displays, and lots of other activities, as well a the chance to interact with the remarkable men and women who now serve in the Navy and Marines.
My son, Lieutenant Jonathan Blyth, who is in the Naval Reserve, is working hard helping to promote Fleet Week and would be grateful if you and your kids take part. It is an experience that will help make them proud of our country, and that’s exactly the way they should feel.
And, yes, I know, I was very fortunate to raise a very patriotic American.
—Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness—and Liberalism—to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.