No flags are flying to indicate something special, the media is only talking about the first weekend of summer, and all of the stores are offering sales. On Drexel’s campus excitement is in the air, because students and staff alike are looking forward to the long weekend.
To an outsider, this could be just any other weekend, but it is not.
Monday is May 25, also known as Memorial Day, and the reason that the entire United States gets to enjoy an extended weekend. Memorial Day dates back to May 5, 1868 in Washington, D.C., when Major General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) – an organization of union veterans – established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. He declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. By the end of the 19th century, ceremonies were being held on May 30 nation-wide. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observances at their facilities.
However, it was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor soldiers who have died in all American Wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress.
A staple of Memorial Day is the poppy flower, which serves as a perpetual tribute to those who have given their lives for the U.S.’s freedom. Veterans service organizations throughout the country distribute poppies in exchange for a donation that is used to help veterans, widows, widowers and orphans.
According to the Memorial Day Foundation’s web site, since the late 1950’s the 1,200 soldiers of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Brigade place small American flags at each of the 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They then patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day during the Memorial Day weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
The foundation also mentions the government’s efforts to raise awareness of Memorial Day’s true meaning through the “National Moment of Remembrance” which asks that all Americans pause for a moment of silence in remembrance and respect.
Ashley Twitty, a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering associates Memorial Day with cookouts, no school and parties.
“I think maybe because in college there are no [mandatory] history lessons and no one teaches you about it. People should take the time to learn the importance of the day,” Twitty said.
Walter Parrish, Coordinator for Leadership and Community Development in the Office of Campus Activities (OCA) also thinks of BBQs, and family and friends when he thinks of Memorial Day.
“One of the main reasons people do not observe it is because they do not have a significant person in their lives who has contributed to the Armed Services. It is just another day off,” Parrish says of people’s lack of interest in the day.
Parrish explains that everyone has dimensions that reflect what they value most in life. At the center are the core dimensions followed by the second dimensions and lastly the peripheral dimensions. It would seem that Memorial Day is on the outskirts of most of Drexel’s and Philadelphia’s dimensions.
“If we understood each other better, we could have more participation in holidays,” Parrish says.
Tyler Kovitch, a freshman studying Engineering plans on spending time with his family and have a cookout.
“I think about America in general and what it has accomplished as a country,” Kovitch says of his association with the holiday proving that not everyone is ignorant of the meaning of the holiday.
“Not a lot of people associate the day with wars. A lot of young people don’t know the meaning or observe it unless a family member is in the forces,” says Nancy Lan, a junior studying Public Relations. “Another factor is that the media does not present its true meaning.”
The Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Front and Spruce Streets.
Major Spencer O. Ashford, Professor of Military Science in the ROTC program and soon-to-be Lieutenant Colonel, is under the impression that only a minority of the general Drexel population understands what Memorial Day is about.
“Honestly, they just see it as another day off,” Ashford says.
The ROTC program does not have anything special planned for the day, but Ashford says that if they did, the color guard would most likely march in a parade. When they do present the colors in a parade three cadets carry the flags while two others carry rifles.
“It is a day to reflect on those who have gone before you and paved the way,” he says of the day’s meaning.
Personally, he will call his dad, who is a veteran and a few of his friends and spend time with family.
For the future Ashford, who has worked at Drexel ROTC since August 2008 and has been in the Army for 17 years, would be interested in holding events that would educate the general student body on Military history and holidays. Another thing he would like to personally do is get together a bunch of cadets and do a thunder run on motorcycles to the memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
Ashford thinks it is tough to make people do anything they do not want to, but says that respect should still be paid.
“The smallest thing you can do is if you see someone who is [noticeably] a veteran, stop and say ‘Thank you for your service’,” Ashford says of how people can observe the day.