Americans Asked to Stop for 60 Seconds to Remember Heroes
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 27, 2004 White House officials are asking all Americans worldwide to pause for 60 seconds at 3 p.m. local time May 31 Memorial Day to honor America's fallen and to recognize veterans and today's servicemen and women, particularly those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House is calling on all Americans to join in a
National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. May 31 Memorial Day to honor those
who died in service to the nation. The moment is intended to be a unifying act
of remembrance for Americans of all ages. White House photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This doesn't mean coming to a screeching halt if you're driving a car, said Carmella LaSpada, director of the White House Commission on Remembrance. "Just turn on your headlights for a moment," she added. "The legacy of those who died to make this country better is something that can strengthen and unite us."
The request is part of the National Moment of Remembrance activities slated to coincide with the Memorial Day observance. The 3 p.m. local time start was chosen because it's the time when many Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday, LaSpada explained.
She emphasized that the moment doesn't replace traditional Memorial Day observances. The idea was born in May 1996, LaSpada said, when children touring the nation's capital were asked what Memorial Day meant, and they responded, "That's the day the pools open!"
Memorial Day was established as a national holiday in 1868 to pay tribute to those who died serving the nation.
On Dec. 28, 2000, the White House Commission on Remembrance was established to promote the spirit of unity and remembrance through the minute-long observance. Congress wanted to ensure that the nation remembers the sacrifices of America's fallen for the Revolutionary War to the present. Lawmakers also wanted to recognize the devotion to duty of veterans and all those who continue to serve the nation and remind all Americans of their common heritage.
"Congress wanted to bring the country together in an act of national unity, and to put 'memorial' back into Memorial Day," LaSpada said. "A recent Gallup Poll indicated that 28 percent of Americans don't know the meaning of Memorial Day. More than 60 percent don't observe Memorial Day in any way. So this isn't taking the place of any traditional ceremonies. This is something to do to bring the country together, particularly those who don't observe it in any way."
LaSpada hopes people won't just stop and reflect for 60 seconds on Memorial Day and forget about it the rest of the year. "The whole idea is to think and reflect on what it means to be an American and to honor those people died for our freedoms throughout the year, including special events like the 4th of July and Veterans Day," she said.
"The majority of those who died during wartime gave up their futures when they were so young," LaSpada noted. "This is what we need to remember and to come together in this act of unity of what it means to be an American."
She emphasized that Memorial Day and the Moment of Remembrance hold special significance during wartime and the global fight against terrorism. "When you're engaged in any war, people are more aware," LaSpada said. "But our whole idea is that people know the history of this country. And that they should be aware of the sacrifices made from the Revolutionary War on. Kids don't even know much about Vietnam."
LaSpada said she strongly believes that a Moment of Remembrance is a matter of education. "You've got to give the people of this country a sense of history," she continued. "If we don't have a sense of history, we don't have a sense of citizenship. People shouldn't think that the only time the nation remembers those who died for our freedoms is during wartime."
"Patriots Patrol," an effort being developed by the commission, is geared toward educating elementary school students in "putting patriotism into action," LaSpada said. "Under Patriots Patrol, we have a special program we encourage schools to use," she noted. "The children are told what Memorial Day is and how it started. Then we have a story about someone who died fighting for the freedoms Americans enjoy."
The commission created "Roll Call Remembrance," in which a bell is rung and a child says, "We remember those from the Revolutionary War who died for us." They continue through all of America's wars.
"We also tell them that this includes those who died in conflicts, incidents and peacekeeping missions, such as in Beirut and those who died in incidents like the attack on the USS Stark, the incident in Somalia and others who've died in the war on terrorism," LaSpada noted.
Starting this year, the commission -- with the support of the National Association for Music Education, Bugles Across America and The Getzen Instrument Company -- is inviting trumpet players across the country to play "Taps" at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day in the moment's "Echoes of Remembrance" throughout America, LaSpada said.
She noted that thousands of participants are slated to participate in "The Moment," including Major League Baseball, NASCAR, the National Hockey League, Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority, hospitals, retirement communities, shopping malls, grocery stores, airports, bus lines and military installations.
One year, Yankee Stadium was packed with spectators when the announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your attention!" The players came out of the dugout; those on the field stood at attention and the umpire took his mask off. Commission representative then played the Moment of Remembrance video, LaSpada said.
"Everyone stood up and you just felt connected," LaSpada said. "We saw kids tugging on their father asking, 'What was that all about, Daddy?'"
She said the fathers probably said something like, "That was about the people who died for our freedoms, and that's why we can go to these baseball games."
The commission urges Americans to perform its Memorial Day anthem, "On This Day," which was composed by award-winning composer Charles Strouse, perhaps best known as composer of the musicals "Annie" and "Bye Bye Birdie." LaSpada said it's an inspiring song that celebrates the lives of America's fallen.
She said the song helps promote and inspire the tone of the annual observance to connect all Americans and to sustain the American spirit. By remembering those who died for our country, LaSpada continued, we become more aware of our identity as Americans.
"We're becoming a fragmented society, and we really need to bring the country together." LaSpada noted. "There's a lot to be done. I think if we can reach into the hearts and minds of Americans and say lets remember who we are, lets stick together and let's get back to this country and make it better."