The significance of Memorial Day is being lost in the commercialism that has come to symbolize the holiday marking the beginning of the summer season, says a former soldier who guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"It was appropriate in the old days to just stop on that day, whatever day it was of the week, and take that day off and go to honor your fallen loved ones. So, yes, the commercialism has sort of gobbled up Memorial Day as a meaningful event," says Tom Tudor, now the treasurer of the Society of the Honor Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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In an interview with Newsmax TV, Tudor sought to create a new interest in one of the most significant holidays that Americans take time out to observe. First observed in 1868 to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the holiday has increasingly come to symbolize a sales bargain to be had at the local mall or a trip to the beach, rather than a time to honor those who died in war.
Memorial Day, says Tudor, is certainly not "business as usual" for the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where thousands often gather and presidents come to observe what veterans consider a solemn day with the laying of a wreath in honor of the fallen.
"It's wreath laying after wreath laying, and sometimes the president comes on Memorial Day, although the president did not come on my last duty day [at the tomb] in 1970," Tudor recalled.
The tomb itself was dedicated in 1921 on the third anniversary of the signing of the Armistice with Germany ending World War I.
"The tomb was very different looking than it is today," Tudor said. "It was sort of a table-looking thing, a little pedestal, cut-off pedestal, that was supposed to accommodate a larger monument on top of it. In 1931, that was replaced with what is currently the tomb."
The tomb, however, wasn't guarded around the clock until 1937, when it was discovered that visitors were chipping away parts of the tomb for souvenirs, said Tudor.
The tomb has been guarded nonstop ever since, regardless of weather conditions, even during hurricanes, by the dedicated military guards, known as the Sentinels of the Tomb, or Old Guard, from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.
Tudor said the guards feel that "a little discomfort on our part is nothing compared to the sacrifice that has been made by those whom we are guarding." Those deceased service members, Tudor said, not only sacrificed their lives, but their identities.
"They were unknown, unheard of from the time they left," Tudor said of the thousands who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam, and are now honored at the tomb.
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