From an editorial in the May 30, 1939, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune, just three months before the start of World War II.
It was a proper shift in emphasis which changed “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day.” The occasion now marked is not merely one for the decoration of graves. Its greatest significance should be the reminder it brings concerning the dead.
Today’s holiday began as one dedicated to those who fell in the Civil War. Now there is included in its ceremonial observance tribute to those who gave their lives in all of this nation’s military engagements. Meditations which the occasion prompts may, in no less measure, dwell upon the deeds and the memory of the peacetime dead as well.
The central emphasis of this, the most solemn among our secular holidays, is, of course, upon those who gave their lives in wartime. Those who speak and write about the holiday find varying phases of its message to which they give unequal stress. Some find the record of war dead a basis for appeals concerning preparedness and the expansion of armaments programs. Others turn to immediate issues of undeclared war and ill defined neutrality.
There are those, too, who broaden the occasion to include all our dead, who find reminders concerning the fleeting quality of life itself among the most important to be considered. Yet, in view of the significance which the day has come to assume, it would seem that Abraham Lincoln gave its dominant theme the best possible expression when he pleaded — before this holiday became a fixed occasion — “that we here highly resolve that these honored dead shall not have died in vain.”
The world situation today is anything but promising, when we consider our responsibility in making wartime sacrifice bear its intended fruit. Yet there is some slight measure of solace in the fact that, while war seemed imminent last Memorial Day, it has not come during the year intervening.
Tension has been worse than ever on many occasions during this year. But, at least, the struggle in Spain is over, and “power diplomacy” continues its efforts at attaining some measure of balance. Statesmen may claim credit for the uncertain peace which continues, but they merely reflect a feeling among the people — one which recognizes the utter futility of war and is willing to go to all possible lengths to avoid it.
There is little that the tribute we pay at the graves of our soldier dead can add to the significance of their sacrifice. But as we pause today we can renew our allegiance to them and to all that the day commemorates, and in so doing strengthen the nation in its pursuit of peace and the greater good of men.