Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Memorial Day: Not Just For Barbecue

Memorial Day has a double meaning for most, as either a day of fun and relaxation or of somber commemoration. In her weekly commentary, host Michel Martin offers a brief history of the holiday and a salute to those who sacrifice for their country.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

That's about it for us. And as we close this special Memorial Day broadcast, I have a few thoughts about the holiday which you can find on the Opinion Page at NPR.org. But just briefly, we want to note that while many of us will spend the day at the swimming pool or a cookout, this is a day of remembrance for millions of Americans whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. So we want to end our Memorial Day program with a message to them. Thank you.

And that's our program for today. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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A Host's Final Thoughts

Before Memorial Day became the day to compare notes about beach traffic, to open the pool, to catch the first summer sales, it was the day to remember those who died while in the nation's service. It was originally called Decoration Day. And while the origins of customs like this are always disputed, it seems pretty clear that the custom of setting aside a day to honor the nation's war dead started in the 1860s, around the time of the Civil War.

Maybe the families started it. Maybe it was those once-removed, who wanted to find a way to show their respect and gratitude for the sacrifice made by the few for the sake of the many. Interesting that this day of commemoration is rooted in a time of such division. Even now there is the inevitable tension and distance between the two meanings of the day: on the one hand, those who just want and need a day to relax, and those who want and need a day to mourn. There's a human need for both – for refreshment and celebration, for pause and remembrance.

But it seems fitting that those who are not carrying the burden of grief should pause to remember those who do.

So, to the men and women who are serving around the world, to the families who support them, we thank you.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues