Memorial Day is one of those holidays that has no fixed, carved-in-stone date. What is it about the month of May that makes people want to reschedule tradition? A couple of weeks ago, I lamented the moving of May Day from May 1st to a date more convenient for schools staging pageants. Now I feel a Memorial Day rant coming on.
Memorial Day used to be celebrated on the 30th of May instead of on the last Monday of the month. Like Christmas and New Year's Day, it didn't matter on which day of the week it happened to fall, Memorial Day was May 30, period. It was a day of remembrance, a day to honor our fallen heroes, those who died in service to our country. Then Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved several holidays in order to give federal employees more three-day weekends. The act took effect on Jan. 1, 1971, and included both Memorial Day and Veterans Day; however, Veterans Day moved back to Nov. 11 a few years later. It took another Act of Congress to do so, literally.
Many people feel that the original intent of Memorial Day has been diluted by the three-day weekend. In 1989, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye introduced a bill calling for the restoration of Memorial Day to May 30. In reintroducing the bill in 1999, our own hometown hero remarked that "we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect upon the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer. . . . This legislation would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve."
I do remember when Memorial Day was a solemn occasion marked by ceremony and prayer. And lei. One of my most vivid Makawao School memories is of the entire student body walking down Makawao Avenue to the Veterans Cemetery, plumeria lei in hand. Respectfully quiet, we filed into the rows of graves until there was a student standing at each plot. I remember staring at the serviceman's name before me, memorizing it and wondering if he might have had an 8-year-old daughter like me, while Principal Bill Tavares explained the essence of the occasion. That name stayed in my mind long after we placed our lei on the headstones. To this day, whenever I hear the plaintive opening notes of taps, I'm whisked back to Makawao Veterans Cemetery, with the fragrance of plumeria swirling around visions of a young nisei soldier.
Today there are nearly 2,700 men and women laid to rest there. It's a daunting challenge, trying to honor each with a lei on Memorial Day.
You can help by participating in "Blossoms for the Brave" on Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the front lawn of the County Building. Co-sponsored by Kaunoa Senior Services and the Office of the Mayor, this massive community lei-making event is sure to be one of the biggest feel-good moments of the year. It's free of charge, with ample parking at the War Memorial Football Stadium lot. Free shuttles to the County Building will depart every half-hour starting at 8:30 a.m.
Lei-making materials and instruction will be provided, but you're welcome to bring your own. Or you can drop off finished lei, 20 to 24 inches, before tying. Donations of flowers and greenery are desperately needed; those may be dropped off between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday at the South High Street parking lot in front of the County Building. If you bring flowers, they should be sturdy, like crown flowers, orchids, bozu, etc. The lei will be transported by the Korean War veterans and placed on the graves by the Girl Scouts on Monday.
Kaunoa Senior Center in Spreckelsville is also accepting donations of ti leaves and ti leaf lei today and tomorrow. In fact, staff and volunteers there have already made and frozen nearly 400 ti leaf lei for the project. That means we only have to make another 2,300 or so. And we're probably even closer to our goal than that, because the Kihei Youth Center and other groups are making lei now since they can't be present at the event.
I hope you'll be there. It's for a good cause, and it's good for you too. Surrounded by fresh flowers and smiling faces, working with your hands, lei-making feeds the soul. We'll enjoy live music by Maui-born vocalist Neil Yamamura, and we'll get to talk story with friends old and new, maybe even kanikapila, as we perform our labor of love. I can't think of a better way to honor our heroes, even if it isn't May 30.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o " column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.