A different America demands a different kind of Memorial Day

law enforcement outside texas school

Law enforcement officers speak together outside of Robb Elementary School following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. A shooter stormed the campus, killing 19 students and 2 teachers before being fatally shot by law enforcement Photo by Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Today is Memorial Day. And as I write this column, the forecast calls for sunny skies and very summery temperatures of 91 degrees. It’s a day perfect for a parade, a barbecue, and gathering with family and friends.

But while this holiday Monday might be cause for some of us to celebrate, we should also pause to remember the day’s somber beginnings. After all, it’s right there in the name: Memorial Day.

With roots that go back to the Confederate south, with an eventual transfer to the north, Memorial Day always has been a day of solemn remembrance. It’s a day that we pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price to keep the rest of us safe. And we honor those who are serving now.

But these are different times, and they demand a different kind of Memorial Day.


Because, nationwide, 1 million American families who have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic, will set an empty place at their holiday barbecue. A beloved sibling, grandparent or spouse, who might have waved a flag during a Memorial Day parade, or chased a child around the backyard, won’t be with us today.

We must pause to remember them.

In Buffalo, the families of the 10 Black people who died in a racist shooting rampage at a grocery store are in mourning.

We must pause to remember them.

In Uvalde, Texas, the families of 19 children and two teachers who were gunned down at Robb Elementary School, are coming to terms with an unfathomable loss. The tragedy has been compounded with the news that the grieving husband of one of the slain teachers died of a heart attack days after losing his wife. And now their four children are orphaned.

We must pause to remember them.

As I’ve written more than once recently, while the mass shootings in Texas and Buffalo have grabbed all the headlines, such explosions of violence are sickeningly familiar to the people who not only live in Pennsylvania’s biggest cities, but also its smallest towns.

Because it’s a poverty of opportunity that has contributed to a tragic spike in overdoses across the nation and across Pennsylvania. The U.S. surpassed a record of 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021, according to the Washington Post.

We must pause to remember them, even as we pause to remember all those who were taken from us too soon, whether by disease or natural causes, whether by accident, or by a murderer’s gun.

Because as we honor the fallen who paid the ultimate price defending our freedom, we must remember what values, what principles they died defending.

They died so that Black shoppers could walk unafraid through the aisles of a Buffalo grocery store.

They died so that American schoolchildren could go to class, and that their parents would not have to worry that day was their last on Earth.

They died to guarantee the still-unfulfilled promise of this nation, that freedom and opportunity are available to all, regardless of who they are, whom they love, or how they worship — or not at all.

They died to make sure that everyone has access to the vote, so that everyone can be a free and equal participant in this ongoing experiment. Not so they could watch a slow slide into authoritarianism fomented by people who are spreading the pernicious lie of a stolen election.

That’s the America that our fallen died defending.

It’s still a work in progress. But after all we’ve come through, after all that we’ve lost, I still believe that we can become the nation that we want the rest of the world to see; that we can grow into the more perfect union that we teach our kids about in social studies class.

It’s the Memorial Day I’ll be marking today. I hope you will too.

This column was originally published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, a sister publication of Arizona Mirror and a member of the States Newsroom network of local newsrooms.


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John L. Micek/Pennsylvania Capital-Star
John L. Micek/Pennsylvania Capital-Star

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press