A Moment to Remember
Pause Honors Holiday’s Origin
For 60 seconds at 3 p.m. local time on Monday, train whistles will blow, bells will ring and baseball games will come to a halt pursuant to legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 2000.
The one-minute pause on a day that has come to mark the start of summer is intended to remind Americans that Memorial Day is about more than barbecues, beach balls and blowout sales.
“People have turned our holidays into vacations and a
lot of times young people miss the real significance of the day,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the former Reagan speechwriter who sponsored the House legislation establishing the National Moment of Remembrance. “I felt that having people stop their festivities and wait for a moment of silence would reinforce what the day is supposed to be all about.”
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, thinks this year’s Moment of Remembrance is especially poignant in light of the ongoing fighting in Iraq.
“Any time America has men and women who are dying daily around the world, it magnifies the importance of this recognition,” said Hagel, who fought, and nearly died, alongside his brother in Vietnam. “Iraq is very complicated. But I think our men and women who are serving in Iraq and around the world need to be assured of and confident that this country does and will support them in their efforts in every way.”
For the third time, the United States Capitol Historical Society, a nonpartisan educational group, will observe the moment of remembrance by sponsoring a public prayer and rendition of taps at 3 p.m. in Statuary Hall.
The legislation passed by Congress in 2000 established the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. With a mix of private money and $250,000 annually in federal funds, the foundation encourages recognition of America’s war dead by facilitating local observances and producing educational materials.
The commission’s executive director, Carmella LaSpalda, began lobbying for such an observance in 1995.
“The idea came to me when I asked kids who were touring Washington what Memorial Day meant and they said, ‘It’s the day the pool opens,’” LaSpalda said.
Memorial Day, or Decorations Day as it was originally known, was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on the orders of Gen. John Alexander Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The holiday has since been expanded to include the memory of all Americans who have died while serving in the U.S. military, from the Revolutionary War to the war in Iraq.
Some veteran groups believe appreciation for Memorial Day began to decline in 1971 when the holiday was changed from May 30 of each year to the last Monday in May in order to ensure a three-day weekend.
In the hopes of returning the holiday’s focus to the memory of sacrifice, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a World War II veteran, is once again pushing legislation that would fix Memorial Day on May 30 of each year.
Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), Inouye’s House counterpart on the legislation in years past, has decided not to reintroduce the legislation this year.
“Instead of contesting the date of Memorial Day observance, I will join with my colleagues and with Nevadans to focus on the true meaning of the holiday instead of the date,” said Gibbons, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and with the Nevada Air National Guard during the Gulf War. “The fact that the date of observance shifts annually so that many workers can enjoy a three-day weekend allows friends and families to travel and gather together to observe our nation’s great loss.”
Rendering Monday’s prayer in Statuary Hall will be Chaplain Bill Perry, a retired Navy captain. A representative from the Army’s bugle corps will perform taps. The master of ceremony will be Steven Livengood, chief guide and public programs manager for the historical society.
The event is free and open to the public.