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Big Chuck

May 24, 2010

I Was Just Thinking: Holiday meanings have been masked over time

What has happened to our holidays?

Can anybody name the date of Washington or Lincoln's births?

Of course not.

We do know we celebrate a wacky hybrid known as Presidents Day on the third Monday of February each year, but the reasoning behind that is to guarantee another three-day weekend for federal employees (as dictated by the Uniform Holidays Act of 1968). Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, etc. All moved around like Scrabble pieces. School kids and government workers love it. But what happened to the core meaning of these observances?

Oh, and for the record George Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732, and Abe Lincoln on Feb. 12, 1809. As you can see, it is now mathematically impossible to celebrate our Founding Father's birth on his actual birthday. As I said, wacky.

Set aside the holidays we celebrate with "Honest Abe" mattress sales or Columbus Day discovery bargains and you see that holidays just seem to come and go in a vanilla wash of commercialism. Religious holidays are no different, either.

But the holidays that to me remain most sacred are the ones elevated to honor our military. Of these, Memorial Day tugs most persistently at our heartstrings.

Memorial Day is that venerable salute snap we give to our very existence. It started in Waterloo. But don't go looking for a big Memorial Day commemoration on the last Monday of May there. No sir. The good people of Waterloo do it the old-fashioned way, on May 30, regardless of the day of the week it falls on (take that, Uniform Holidays Act of 1968!).

Memorial Day pays tribute to those who gave their lives in service to their nation. It started as Decoration Day, a day to adorn the graves of fallen soldiers. Today, more than ever, it is totally appropriate that we pause and reflect on the millions of identical white markers standing as mute sentinels in our nation's cemeteries.

I was in Arlington Cemetery two weeks ago. It is a place that speaks to you. In silence, yes, but as loud as a clarion bell also. Of the sanctity of life. And the foolishness of war. Of bravery and courage and country.

Once the "ad men" in the War Department got a hold of it, the fog of war that covered the human side of combat became thick and formidable. World War I was the "War to End All Wars." It wasn't. World War II gave us (years later) the phrase "The Greatest Generation." True, no arguments there. Korea, "The Coldest War," remains one of the most unknown, quiet-toned and nasty conflicts in American history.

We have heard of "the light at the end of the tunnel," "shock and awe," "the surge," "peace in our time," etc. And yet our military engagements around the world continue.

The Vietnam War was my generation's war. While in our nation's capital two weeks ago I paid a midnight visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall.

There, in the still of a clear, cold, starless night, my wife and kids and I slowly paced the mirror-like black slabs etched with 58,000 names of American men and women who died in Vietnam. It is impossible not to be moved by it.

Closer to home, I would like to offer a tiny travel tidbit to you this Memorial Day. Take a trip to little Sidney Center in Delaware County. When there, seek out the old hillside train station called Maywood. It is also the home of the local historical society.

The train depot (nonoperating) has been fully restored to its historic grandeur. In days gone by trains from the O&W Railroad would rattle above town here on the region's highest train trestle. Maywood Station tells this community's history beautifully.

But go into the back. Near the old baggage room. And take a look at our area's own Vietnam Wall.

Here displayed for future generations to read are the stories of what I call "The Seven Sons." Seven Delaware County area boys who went to Vietnam in 1968 and never came back. I knew four of them. They were all "in country" less than a year. They were killed within 58 days of each other. Their flags are on the wall. The national press clippings that told of "the highest percentage of deaths from such a small, rural community (population 500) in America" are on the wall. Condolence letters from Vice President Hubert Humphrey to the Sidney Center families who were rocked with grief. The Oneonta Star news coverage. It's all there at the Maywood Station.

Take a trip. Pay a visit. And read about Bob, "Giff," Gary, "Butch," Larry, Ron and Gerry. Their names are on a wall in Washington and on a wall in Sidney Center.

We honor you and all of your brothers and sisters in uniform.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." He invites you to contact him at His columns can be found at

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