Moment of Remembrance Aims to Put 'Memorial' Back in Memorial Day
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 2005 The National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day is an act of national unity, remembrance and rededication to the ideals upon which the nation was founded, the executive director of the White House Commission on Remembrance explained.
At 3 p.m. local time on May 30, Major League Baseball games will stop, Amtrak train whistles across the nation will blast, and hundreds of other nationwide participants will ask Americans to pause for the National Moment of Remembrance for the nation's fallen, said Carmella LaSpada.
"By remembering those who died for our country, we become more aware of our identity as Americans," she said. "The moment is a time of remembrance for America's fallen and to make a commitment to give something back to our country in their memory."
She pointed out that the National Moment of Remembrance activities are slated to coincide with Memorial Day observances worldwide to help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day. The 3 p.m. local time start was chosen because it's the time of day when many Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday, LaSpada said.
Gen. John Logan officially proclaimed Memorial Day -- originally called Decoration Day -- on May 5, 1868. At the time, Logan was national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest organization of Union veterans of the Civil War. The holiday was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia.
In December 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law "The National Moment of Remembrance Act," creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission's charter is to "encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity." The commission encourages and coordinates commemorations of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance in the United States.
"The goal was to put 'memorial' back in Memorial Day," LaSpada said. "A Gallup Poll revealed that only 28 percent of Americans know the meaning of this noble holiday. The 'moment' doesn't replace the traditional Memorial Day events; rather, it's an act of national unity in which all Americans can participate.
"We want to encourage people to think about their freedom and give something back to the country," she added.
LaSpada said she wants to start a campaign to get Americans to realize the value of "giving back."
"If you appreciate what you have and appreciate your freedom, that's a start," she said. "You could help by volunteering with literacy programs, mentoring at schools, trying to make communities better and enhancing what's already out there, for example, with blood donations and organ donations."
LaSpada said uniting the country in a moment of remembrance is important because America is "becoming a fragmented society."
"(Americans) don't have a sense of history," she said. "If they have a sense of history, they would have a 'connectiveness.' We have to connect as Americans."
The idea for having a National Moment of Remembrance was born in May 1996 while LaSpada was walking through Lafayette Park on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House and stopped to talk to a group of schoolchildren touring Washington.
"I said, 'You know, Memorial Day is next Monday. What's the meaning of Memorial Day to you?'" she recalled. "They all looked at each other and said, 'Oh, that's the day the pool opens.' I thought, 'Gee, we really have to come together.'"
Some do remember, she said, as evidenced by hundreds of thousands of people attending Memorial Day ceremonies. "But we want to get to the large majority who don't observe it in any way," she said.