Capital News: A primer for this year's Memorial Day services

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

I wrote this column a few years ago, after attending a Columbus-area Memorial Day service. Its contents remain relevant, judging by the emails I receive each year. Here's an updated version:

Columbus -- It's a sad day when people treat the local cemetery like a playground with no respect or quiet contemplation, particularly on the day we're supposed to be honoring the memory of the men and women who have given their lives in military service.

It's even sadder when one has to write what I'm about to write -- a list of things every person should know before participating in Memorial Day observances.

Like it or not, the coming holiday weekend, for many, marks the beginning of summertime. There's nothing necessarily wrong with picnics and barbecues and family get-togethers to mark the occasion.

But it's also a serious day of remembrance, and one that should not be taken so lightly that we forget our manners.

Along those lines:

• Let's stop saying "Happy Memorial Day."

It isn't really a happy day, is it? Yes, we're all glad and fortunate to have the freedoms we hold dear, but how about a little sympathy for the families of military men and women killed in action -- particularly those lost in recent months and years in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Would you walk up to one of them and say, "Sorry for your loss, but Happy Memorial Day!" I don't think so.

• Let's stop throwing candy at Memorial Day parades.

If your children can't survive an hour or two without sugar, pack a few extra chocolate bars to distribute when needed. But enough with the spectacle that is created by youngsters screaming and scrambling into the street for peppermints or Tootsie Rolls.

Kids should associate Memorial Day with solemn reflection and gratitude, not with Halloween-type candy hauls.

• Let's leave the cell phones, video games, headphones and other electronic devices in the car once you arrive at the cemetery.

Memorial Day is only once a year, and the services don't last that long. You can do without sending text messages, talking on the phone or hurling Angry Birds until after the ceremony has ended.

Why bother attending if you're going to spend the entire time focused on other things? You can stay home and do that.

• Let's not set up lawn chairs on people's graves.

Cemeteries are not beaches. There are actual deceased people -- many with special markers noting their military service -- under the grass. Surely you can find a better place to watch the ceremony than on top of somebody's relatives.

• Let's not put drink bottles on people's grave markers.

Tombstones are not coffee tables. They're not chairs. They're not for storing your belongings.

• Let's not circulate political petitions in cemeteries.

I understand that office-holders and office-seekers are going to walk in Memorial Day parades. I also understand that people wanting to place issues before voters will walk the lines at those parades to gather registered voters' signatures.

But I do not understand why anyone would think it's proper to circulate petitions inside cemeteries before or during Memorial Day services.

• All of you civilian men out there, let's take off our hats during the National Anthem.

In fact, err on the side of caution and leave the hat at home if you're not sure of the proper protocol.

And put your hand over your heart as Old Glory passes. People have died for your freedom.

• Finally, when you see all of those guys and gals in military uniforms, go shake their hands, give them a hug, maybe buy them a cup of coffee and let them know that you appreciate the sacrifices they have made on your behalf.

You should do that throughout the year, not just on Memorial Day.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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