By Kelly Baughman

Memorial Day can mean many things to different people. For some, it’s a Monday off from work. For others, it’s a three day weekend that kicks off the summer season. To those who see it that way, it’s a celebration of events and activities to come during the next three months of warm weather that is conducive to spending time outside, enjoying family and communing with nature.
But for others, it’s a somber reminder of the sacrifice made by those who have served and those of us who have lost loved ones in our families to the horrors of war.
In traditional observance, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
According to the description of the holiday on the website of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, currently “Memorial Day (formally known as Decoration Day), which is observed on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 pm local time.”
Other traditions include wearing red poppies to commemorate the fallen, but unfortunately, some of these traditions have fallen by the wayside as many Americans have forgotten the meaning of the day, instead replacing it with bar-b-ques, booze, and fun in the sun. U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran and local resident, Charles Watson, said, “While I too enjoy Memorial Day weekend by kicking up my heels, I think it’s unfortunate that so many Americans have forgotten the true meaning behind it. Whether dead or still living, all veterans have made sacrifices and we owe it to them to take a few minutes out of our day to observe that.”
Watson, who served in the Vietnam War said he lost several friends in the line of duty, and that for him, Memorial Day is bitter sweet. “Sure, I love to head out on the boat and grill some steaks while enjoying a three day weekend, but when I think back to those days….to the friends I lost in front of me…it hits me hard. For us, the people who lived through it, that pain never goes away,” he said.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December 2000 which asks that at 3 pm local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’.”
Locally, to honor those who have fallen for our freedom, the U.S. Department of Veterans Services and the Barrancas National Cemetery, located at 1 Cemetery Road on NAS Pensacola, will host their annual Memorial Day Celebration on Monday, May 27th at 9 am. With the help of local volunteers, flags will be placed in remembrance at each grave site followed by a moving ceremony to honor those in our community who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their families. The event is free to attend. For more information or to volunteer to place flags, call 850-453-4108.
While remembering those who served is the most important part of Memorial Day weekend, there will be plenty of fun to be had on the Gulf Coast as well. (Hey, it’s okay to play a little too, right?)
Kick off the weekend with the 6th Annual Pepsi Beach Ball Drop on Friday, May 24th from 5-9 pm at the Wharf in Orange Beach. Over 5,000 beach balls will rain down over Main Street to ring in the summer season. Dozens of family-friendly activities on site from a surf simulator, bouncy house, toxic battle jousting zone (inflatable battle zone), trampoline jumpee, bubble zone, face painting and a loving Kangaroo to pet will be on hand, and check you beach balls for a letter and you could be the winner of some great door prizes. The event is free and family friendly. Take advantage of the amazing shops full of unique gifts, treats, and, décor while you’re there.
On Saturday, May 25th, head over to historic Fort Morgan for their annual Living History Memorial Day Commemoration to “HONOR – RESPECT- REMEMBER”. A wreath laying ceremony is planned for the Tecumseh. Living History groups, spanning from the War of 1812-WWII, will be on hand to remember those who gave their lives in service. Guided tours, weapons demonstrations, and artillery firing are planned. A photo Gallery of WWI and WWII Fort Morgan Service will be inside the arches. Regular Admission will be charged, but there is sure to be fun and learning for all.
When you’re done at Fort Morgan, head on over to OWA in Foley for their Memorial Day Fireworks extravaganza, Saturday, May 25th at 8:45 pm.
On Sunday, take in the lyrics of what makes America great with the country croons of Thomas Rhett on May 26th at 7 pm at the Wharf Amphitheater. Tickets are on sale now at the Wharf Amphitheater Box Office or through TicketMaster.com.
The ‘Sparks After Dark’ Fireworks display on Main Street at the Wharf in Orange Beach is the perfect way to be patriotic while celebrating with friends, family, and a delicious array of treats. Scheduled for Monday, May 27th at 8:45 pm, this show will flash to you right from Memorial Day into summer. Keep your eyes peeled for Starla the Starfish and Baby Shark as they strut along the street during the display. The event is free for everyone.
So while you enjoy your fun in the sun and all the pleasures that summer brings here on the Gulf Coast this Memorial Day Weekend, remember not to dismiss the serious message of Memorial Day, which is to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Here’s to them, and here’s to another great summer in paradise!