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Happy Memorial Day - Martha Carr

It's time once again to remember those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, so that the rest of us can argue over the details, and then go home to dinner with our families.

Originally, there were separate dates for Memorial Day. The Southern states chose their own individual dates, while the rest of the country chose late May. After WW I, we let go of some of our past grievances as a country and compromised. The South also now recognizes the last Monday in May as the official date and then has additional days set aside to commemorate the Confederate war dead.

While the holiday has since been taken over by lawn-and-garden sales, pool openings and backyard barbeques, the tradition is supposed to be to visit the graves of fallen soldiers from any generation, spruce them up and leave behind flowers, particularly poppies, and a small American flag. Poppies can also be worn in the lapel as a sign of remembrance and gratitude.

Poppies were first used in the early 20th Century and really caught on when the VFW started selling them in 1922. A small flower would be refreshing after the sea of ribbons and rubber bracelets.

In 2000, a resolution was passed asking all Americans to pause at 3 p.m., local time, "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps." The resolution was signed by President Clinton with a special request of gratitude for how well the country was doing that year, economically.

OK, things have changed quite a bit in the past 10 years. There's been 9/11, a war in two foreign countries that's dragging on, and a Great Recession. So, that's all the more reason to take a moment and recognize what a few have made possible for the rest of us.

The United States is still here. That's the gift. We can come together in a moment of gratitude to remember and thank those who knowingly stepped out onto a battlefield to give the rest of us a chance to continue on in a democratic state.

No soldier ever asks for those they defend back home to agree with them on political or religious issues. They don't demand celebrity salaries or even seek fame for going into armed combat. Imagine if your job description included ducking from enemy fire or keeping watch for roadside bombs. We'd at least want our neighbor to give us the bigger burger off the grill.

Lately, it's seemed like those who work along Wall Street have been the rock stars in America, but we've gotten a great reality check in the past two years about how to recognize what's really important. People who make piles of money for moving around other piles of money should never be on the list. We have worshipped the Dow long enough and can stop behaving as if the stock market is the heartbeat of our country. It's really just Vegas on a small island.

Our real rock stars are teachers, police officers and firefighters, civil servants and parents, who raise not only their own kids but others as well.

However, at the front of the line is always going to be the men and women who join the Armed Services to protect our right to free speech, free assembly, swift courts and quite a few other freedoms that other countries can, at least, dream of because there is an America as an example across the oceans.

Happy Memorial Day everyone, and to our service men and women everywhere, thank you. We are forever grateful.

The web site, US Memorial, www.usmemorialday.org, has a lot of additional great background information on the national holiday, including past traditions.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.