From the wikipedia article, Memorial Day:
"is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service. First enacted by formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War – it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars."
Some would also say that all wars should not be remembered. Bollocks, I say. My father served in Vietnam. He made it out, but a lot of good men who served beside him did not. Before you start with all the 60's and 70's rhetoric about we should have never been there in the first place, let me remind you: My father chose to serve. Just like the men and women in harm's way today in the Middle East. They did not choose where they would go. They chose to take an oath:
"I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Paraphrasing from one of my favorite games (Metal Gear Solid 3): Politicians make the wars. Soldiers go where they are ordered. An enemy today could likely be an ally tomorrow. Regardless of the reasons and what history may say, these people died in honoring that oath. For that we should be thankful and ultimately grateful.
If Memorial Day should be treated as with a funeral or memorial service, are we getting the whole thing wrong by throwing a party, shopping, attending sporting events and the like? Or are we getting it right by indulging in the freedoms paid for in blood? Which is more appropriate?
I say that like all things right and good in our nation, it is a matter of choice. We have the individual liberty to treat this occasional as a solemn and somber day, or we have the choice to celebrate in the way most meaningful to us. Whether this is in the mall, by the graveside, or at home matters little. What should be most important is that as we participate in these activities we choose, we always keep in mind that someone we likely never met has made that ultimate sacrifice so that we could do these things.
History remembers the generals. It is our responsibility to remember those who were under their command. However you choose to do that, have a great Memorial Day.