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Harry's Gang: Long weekend makes Memorial Day better

Memorial Day is Monday, and many people take advantage of the long weekend to get to the cabin; maybe travel or barbecue, and enjoy other activities to mark the “official” start of the summer season.

I keep hearing complaints that the true meaning of Memorial Day has become lost, as too many people simply see the day as an extra day off from work to relax and play. I have to disagree — I think the extra day off makes it much easier to remember those who have come before us, and the fact that it’s a federal holiday (which means the banks, post office and other federal offices are closed) makes it even more solemn and important, even if many of us are at the cabin or otherwise taking it easy.

After all, our ability to have a long relaxing weekend is the result of those who served our country in the past and provided a framework for future generations to enjoy their freedoms. Where would our country be if not for the brave soldiers who fought in the war to end all wars, or its sequel, World War II? Prior to those wars, America was a nice, relatively low-key country that mostly kept to itself. Sure, we were involved in foreign affairs but not to the extent we saw after those skirmishes. We became a world superpower, and with that, our standard of living began to increase steadily until it seemed most of us were living like kings. None of that would have been possible if we hadn’t been victorious in those wars.

Even the wars that followed, such as the Korean Conflict and the war in Vietnam, helped slow the spread of communism and stabilized our role as a worldwide force. I’m not willing to discuss the political downsides of such events here, as I think it’s best to focus on the positive sides of it all for Memorial Day, but our country’s armed forces shaped our society in a way that we can hardly imagine. Our freedoms and our standard of living simply wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Although Memorial Day is an official day to remember the sacrifice many in the armed forces made in the name of patriotism, it’s also a nice day for us to remember other loved ones.

I’ve celebrated Memorial Day since I was little. As a Boy Scout, we participated in the military celebrations put on by the American Legion and the VFW, and I remember the absolute honor I felt when Rol Falk, the retired sheriff, asked me to play taps on the bugle one year. More recently, I’ve taken my kids to visit cemeteries where many of our ancestors and old friends are buried. We often start in Esko, because my good friend Jeff Korpi is buried there. I tell my boys how excited Jeff was when he found out Tara was pregnant, and how many evenings he spent at our house playing with them when they were babies. Their favorite story, one they insist I tell every year, is how we were just too busy to celebrate Patrick’s second birthday on his actual, midweek birth date. Korpi was having none of that — showing up at dinnertime with treats for the kids, a cake, and presents for Patrick that were highly inappropriate for a 2-year old — flashlights, pocket knives, and silver pieces. We still have them all, and every Memorial Day I remind them how great their Uncle Jeff was.

Next, we head up to Calvary to see family members, many of whom had served, including my Uncle Stan, who served as a paratrooper; and their grandparents, Tony (Marines) and Marg, an American patriot in her own right. We spend a little time reading the gravestones of relatives before heading up to Two Harbors. We have no relatives buried in that cemetery, but a good many of the people who influenced me growing up are, and the kids love hearing my recollections of who they were and how they affected their father as a child. At least, I think they enjoy the stories. They become a bit solemn and reflective during these visits, possibly mimicking their father, but I think they are feeling it, too.

Then, it’s off to Brighton Beach for a picnic and some fun on the rocks. By the looks of it, the kids have forgotten the pomp of Memorial Day by then, and sensing my vulnerability, usually suggest we stop for ice cream on the way home. But a few days ago they asked if we were going to visit the gravesites again this Memorial Day, so I think the message has gotten through to them. And that’s the real lesson of Memorial Day. Here’s hoping you have a happy, safe, and honorable Memorial Day weekend.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].