The president doesn’t seem to understand purpose of Memorial Day

May 31, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

It is clearly a function of history that when the generations who actually lived through an event are gone, the gravity of that event changes.

For instance, take Memorial Day.

Growing up, my dad explained that in the South where he was raised, Memorial Day was known as “Decoration Day.” It was the designated holiday to recognize the war dead from the Civil War. Families would go to the graves of those who served and leave flowers.

It was a serious affair for my dad as there were plenty of people in the Dobbs family who severed on the Confederate side, something I realized last year when I visited the cemetery in Alabama where that side of my family is buried.

Over the years, while Memorial Day has become a day to note the sacrifices of American men and women who died in the service of their nation, it has also become the unofficial start to the summer – with all those bells and whistles – as well as the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 race.

It is still a memorable day, though, largely because members of our military are still laying their lives on the line for this nation – a fact that should never be ignored.

Personally, I went to the Veterans’ Cemetery in Agawam and laid flowers on the grace of my father and mother. My dad was an Air Force officer who served in three conflicts – World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The trip to the cemetery is always emotional for me, as it clearly is for other people. I watched one older couple walk up to a headstone and then embraced each other for a long time. It is a place the reminds us of the responsibilities some people shouldered to protect the rest of us.

It is also a reminder to me of the one real regret in my life, that I did not serve in the armed forces.

You can imagine my reaction then when I read President Trump’s tweet for Memorial Day. Trump wrote, “Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18 years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”


Now in fairness, Trump also tweeted out the following statement: “Thank you for joining us on this solemn day of remembrance. We are gathered here on the sacred soil of @ArlingtonNatl Cemetery to honor the lives and deeds of America's greatest heroes, the men and women who laid down their lives for our freedom.”

The second tweet was part of his prepared remarks at the services at the Arlington National Cemetery. The first is his own unedited thoughts.

Can someone please explain to me why Trump feels it’s necessary to shine the light not on those who served but on himself?

The president did not serve in the military. He avoided the draft with five deferments – four for education and one for bone spurs in his feet.

It’s not unusual for the American people to select as president someone who does not have a military history – Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are among those. Neither of those men chose Memorial Day as an opportunity to crow about their supposed domestic accomplishments.

In contrast, here is what former President Barack Obama tweeted: “We can never truly repay the debt we owe our fallen heroes. But we can remember them, honor their sacrifice, and affirm in our own lives those enduring ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity for which generations of Americans have given that last full measure of devotion.”

Now that sounds like a message for Memorial Day.

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