As a kid, my first memory of summer was a Memorial Day parade and subsequent picnic at my uncle and aunt’s house. It meant that school would be out in days and summer vacation would officially start.
According to the History Channel, the origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, started in 1865 by 1,000 recently freed slaves. In 1868, General John Logan chose May 30th to commemorate the 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. This lasted until 1968 when it was changed to the last Monday in May – giving us all a three-day weekend!
Memorial Day, though, is all about honoring our soldiers. There are currently more than 200,000 soldiers serving in 177 countries.
I admit I’m more concerned about one soldier stationed just over 6,300 miles from the Indy 500. My son, Marcus, is stationed in Jordan as an Army combat medic.
We need to remember the leadership that has gone into making war safer for our troops, especially when we realize how many soldiers died in the Civil War.
In Mary Kay’s life, Memorial Day was like any other day, with her dad aboard a ship somewhere in the world. That was until 1973 when he completed his 27 years in the Navy. By that time, she was in college and summer vacation only meant a full-time summer job; how times change.
We both remember listening to the Indy 500 car race on the radio. This year’s Indy was the 101st running. Who would have thought that a TV show character, Gomer Pyle, would be a huge part of the holiday? In February 1964, America watched in shock as Gomer sang for the first time on TV. No one had any idea he had a rich baritone voice that would bring him world renown. We all thought he was just a hick who said, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
Gomer was introduced on the Andy Griffith show in 1962 as the simple-minded gas station attendant. After his stint on Andy’s show, that same character became the likable marine private for five years on his own show. In 1972, Jim Nabors, who played Gomer Pyle, sang “Back Home in Indiana” at Indy and became best known for kicking off the race. He continued that honor until 2014.
We’ve both been fans of the Andretti family, especially in the past couple years. Mario started racing at Indy in 1965 and was that year’s Rookie of the Year. 53 years later, his grandson, Marco, is racing the same event—continuing over 40 years of grandfather, son, grandson racing at Indy.
Two years ago, we visited the Andretti Winery in Napa. We had no idea that they were known for anything but auto racing. After our visit, we became members of their wine club and have a bottle signed by Mario. On our answering machine, we saved a recording of Mario welcoming us to his wine club. (At least the voice sounds like Mario, and says he is Mario. I’m sure he called us personally!) By the way, it is great wine!
Let’s not forget the true meaning of Memorial Day. Yes, it kicks off summer with a grand parade and picnics throughout the country. It has provided more than 100 years of what some describe as the greatest spectacle in auto racing—more than 300,000 people attended this year’s event.
The true meaning of this 150 year-old celebration is about honoring our troops and all they, along with their families, have sacrificed to keep us free.
Leaders appreciate these touchstones and remember to use them to remind us what those before us have accomplished.