HARLINGEN — For decades, Americans across most of the nation have celebrated Memorial Day at the tail end of a three-day weekend packed with barbecues, family gatherings and retail store sales.
Today, residents here will gather to celebrate Memorial Day on its historical anniversary.
One hundred and fifty years after the holiday’s founding, the city will hold its first Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony the Veterans Memorial in Pendleton Park.
“We just want to keep people aware of the history,” Regina Shipp, a member of the Harlingen Veterans Memorial Project Committee, said yesterday. “It’s not to have a three-day weekend so they can barbecue and party.”
Shipp, the mother of Darrell Shipp, the first Harlingen soldier killed in Iraq 11 years ago, said she waits until the holiday’s historic anniversary to visit her son’s grave.
“I haven’t been to the cemetery to see my son because I didn’t feel it’s May 30,” Shipp said.
For months, she said, the committee has been planning to move the city’s ceremony from the last Monday in May to May 30 to highlight its historical significance.
“Every day we honor people who have fought and died for our country,” Mayor Chris Boswell, who will speak at tonight’s ceremony, said. “Having it on (May 30) is more than appropriate. I think it is innovative and I hope more people attend because it’s during the evening.”
For many Americans, the three-day weekend leading to the observation of Memorial Day on May’s last Monday has diluted some of the holiday’s significance, Sal Carmona, a police officer who serves as the committee’s chairman, said.
“We wanted the attention to be on the true day of May 30,” Carmona said.
In 1868, the holiday was founded on May 30 as Decoration Day, or Memorial Day.
“It’s about the veterans who died for our country,” Carmona said. “The intent was to decorate the gravesites of those who died in prior wars with flags and wreaths.”
In 1971, Congress moved the holiday’s observation to the last Monday in May, giving America’s workers a three-day weekend.
“It impacted the significance and intent of the original holiday,” Carmona said. “Now, there are barbecues, family gatherings and Memorial Day car sales and furniture sales. Other things have taken preference rather than visiting the gravesites of those who died for our country. Our hope is to recognize Memorial Day for the veterans who gave their lives for our freedom.”
Like Boswell, organizers believe tonight’s event will draw more residents than Memorial Day ceremonies commonly held in the morning on the last Monday in May.
With the three-day weekend’s trappings over, residents can more clearly focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day, Carmona said.
“We wanted to afford the opportunity to have more people who work at our ceremony,” he said.
What: Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony
Where: Veterans Memorial in Pendleton Park
When: 7 p.m. today
Why: Memorial Day ceremony