All posts by Donna Smith

Take a Walk on Memorial Day

memorial day

Master Sergeant Jeffrey Thomas served 22 years in the United States Air Force. He is now a student at St. Petersburg College’s Midtown campus, studying counseling so that he can continue his work with veterans. Thomas is a very active veteran, and recently represented SPC as Student Veterans Association President in Washington, D.C. on an SGA trip. There, he met with the national president of the Student Veterans Association, who asked him to spread the word about the importance of Memorial Day. So when the Boy Scout troop at MacDill Air Force base asked him to give a speech at the Eagle Scout ceremony luncheon on May 24, he took the opportunity to share the message about Memorial Day. Below is an essay Thomas wrote for Military Times, which he used as his address to the Scouts.

Never forget the meaning of Memorial Day

Too many Americans have forgotten the true meaning of this special day. For some, it’s just another day off of work; for others, a day at the beach or a barbecue. This is not what Memorial Day is supposed to be about. Let us embrace the true meaning of Memorial Day once again, and demand that those who went on before us be given the respect and honor they so truly deserve.

Picture yourself walking through a huge cemetery.  Look around at all those grave sites. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, who are in these graves? Did they have a family? What did they do? Did they fulfill their life in this world? The graves were marked, but most were forgotten.  Here laid 45,000 heroes, men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for America.

At Bay Pines Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Florida, each year, the Boy Scouts put U.S. flags on about 45,000 graves to celebrate Memorial Day so that these heroes are not forgotten. Graves of thousands of men and women are neatly aligned on a carpet of lush, green grass. When I was a young Boy Scout, I would help put the flags out here at Bay Pines. My dad and both of my uncles and brother in-law who served their country in the U.S. Armed forces, as well as many personal friends of mine who served with me in the Gulf War, are laid to rest at this beautiful cemetery. Two ago I buried my Mom right next to my dad. I think that each of those tombstones honors a great American hero. This is what Memorial Day means to me. 

Memorial Day was created to honor our American heroes who have served our country. Memorial Day has been declared a federal holiday to be observed every year on the last Monday in May. Originally named Decoration Day, this day of remembrance was introduced after the American Civil War to honor our fallen Union soldiers. It wasn’t until after World War I that this day was declared to be in remembrance of all U.S. military personnel who have made that ultimate sacrifice for this country by losing their lives while serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day is when we honor all dead American military men and women, the brave men and women who lie underneath the earth just so that we may stay proud on the ground above and live free. These men and women gave their lives selflessly, thinking not of themselves, but instead of the future citizens of the United States of America. On December 28, 2000, the U.S. Congress passed an act called The National Moment of Remembrance. The main purpose is “to raise awareness of and respect for the national heritage, and to encourage citizens to dedicate themselves to the values and principles for which those heroes of the United States died.” At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, every U.S. citizen is asked to pause for a moment in unity “to honor the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace we have.” These men and women gave their lives selflessly, thinking not of themselves but the future of us, the future citizens of the United States of America.

I think each of those tombstones at Bay Pines Cemetery represents a great American hero. Memorial Day reminds us about those who not only died while wearing a uniform, but those who died while enjoying the freedoms of this great country we live in. This is a day to celebrate the memories of the fallen heroes. It takes a certain kind of mentality to serve one’s country; qualities such as honor, loyalty, and respect are byproducts of military service. I think these qualities make people better citizens when they enter the civilian life.

As a way of celebrating this reserved day, I have a unique personal tradition. It may seem strange, but I usually find myself visiting Bay Pines Cemetery on Memorial Day because it is where I have many family members and friends buried. I walk around the grounds and make the graves of veterans “presentable” by clearing off the leaves and picking up trash. I do this to preserve the sacredness of their final resting place, as well as to pay my respects for a job well done. I thank every veteran, past and present, for everything they have done for this country. Memorial Day also glorifies those who have been lost, defending this area of land that we claim as ours. This is a day to celebrate the memories of the fallen heroes in the United States of America, who have made that ultimate sacrifice for this country by losing their lives while serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day reminds me of those who not only died while wearing a uniform, but those who died while enjoying the freedoms of this great country we live in. This is a day to observe the memories of the fallen heroes. Whenever I hear taps being played, whenever I see fireworks in the sky, or whenever I see flags hanging proudly on their staffs, I know that I am safe, and I know that I am free.  I am grateful to live in a great country where we know in our hearts we will always be free because there are courageous men and women who I have served with in the armed forces who were born to fight for everything that is American.  That’s the way I observe this day!

To observe Memorial Day properly, Americans ought to walk through a military cemetery and look at all the names and ages of the Americans buried there. Many of them died when they were in their 20’s and 30’s. They sacrificed 30 or 40 years of living the good old American life. They gave up barbecues, trips to baseball games, hugging their children, kissing their spouses so that we can live the good American life. I love my freedom, I love my America, and most of all, and my patriotic heart beats red, white, and blue. Please remember that freedom is not free.

God bless America, today and always and forever.