Memorial Day is an official Federal Holiday that is observed on the final Monday of May each year. The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember and to honor those who have died while serving in the armed forces of the United States. The holiday originated in the years following the American Civil War when people in different parts of the country began decorating the graves of those who died in the war. Because more than 725,000 men died in the Civil War, the practice of decorating graves spread throughout the country. Originally called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30 each year, the name gradually was changed to Memorial Day and in 1968 Congress passed a law switching the holiday from May 30 to the last Monday in May. (There is no special significance to May 30; some say that day was chosen because it was the optimum date for flowers to be in bloom).
The Greater Lowell Veterans Council observes Memorial Day each year with a ceremony that begins at the Ladd and Whitney Monument in front of Lowell City Hall and ends at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. At the Ladd and Whitney Monument, the names of the members of the various veterans organizations in Greater Lowell are read and a rifle salute is fired and taps are played. Everyone then adjourns to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium for a speaking program, a “water ceremony” in which flowers are tossed into the Concord River to remember those lost at sea, and another salute is fired and taps are played. The veterans then generously provide an excellent lunch to all who attend.
This year’s speaking program included remarks by State Senator Eileen Donoghue, Mayor Rodney Elliott, and City Councilor Rita Mercier. Senator Donoghue expressed her gratitude to all who had fallen in the service of our country and extended her thanks to all who serve and who have served in the US military. She said amidst all the barbeques and store sales that have come to characterize Memorial Day, everyone should set aside time to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives while fighting to preserve the freedom that so benefits all of us. She concluded by saying that perhaps the best way for us to remember those who gave their lives while serving in the military was to continuously promote the values they fought for: freedom, justice, liberty and equality.
Mayor Elliott said he sometimes fears that the true meaning is lost in today’s American culture but then he reads stories of ordinary Americans honoring veterans and he feels better about our country. He said that a characteristic of the American people is to help those in need and no one does that more than the American military. He quoted Mark Twain who said “Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time and your government when it deserves it.” He said problems occur when we remain silent on things that matter and that none of us should be silent about our collective responsibility to care for our veterans – they should be honored, respected and cared for. The Mayor closed by saying we should all be thankful that since the founding of our country there have always been brave men and women who have willingly stepped forward and served in the military in order to preserve the freedoms the rest of us enjoy each and every day.
Council Mercier shared similar sentiments in her remarks, commending all who step away from the start-of-summer social activities to spend some time on Memorial Day honoring those who have died in war. She said that it’s not a day for celebration but a day for respectful remembrance of the true heroes of our country.
Besides Senator Donoghue, Mayor Elliott and Councilor Mercier, other elected officials in attendance were Councilors Bill Martin, Corey Belanger and Bill Samaras; School Committee member Dave Conway; and State Representative Dave Nangle. Also in attendance were former City Councilor (and commander of the Portuguese-American Veterans) Joe Mendonca and State Representative candidate Rady Mom.