Eleanor Roosevelt – My Day: May 22-31

May 30, 1938

“HYDE PARK, Sunday—…Tomorrow, Monday, May 30th, is Decoration Day and long processions wending their way to the various churchyards to hold ceremonies decorating the graves of those men who have made the supreme sacrifice in past wars will remind us of those who have died for this country.

Only a little over 20 years have passed since the World War and yet, everywhere people are talking of the imminence of the next world war. Strange it is that we accept so placidly this constant recurrence of waste which plunges us into years of hardship and difficult reconstruction.

When Miss Margaret Bonfield lunched with me the other day, I could not help wondering how a woman, who has given so much of her life to constructive work for the betterment of human beings, can continue to be hopeful and patient in the face of the apparent stupidity which we show in leading our lives.

I wish that we could use Decoration Day throughout this country, not only as a patriotic celebration to honor the deeds of the past, but as a day on which we remind our young people of their obligation to the future. On them lies the necessity to change the thinking of the future so that we will prevent graves all over the world, which on one day or another, are visited first by sorrowing relatives, and later by patriotic youngsters and their elders who realize that the people under the flag-bedecked gravestones gave all they had to give for their country and gained little for it and the world.

All these young lives might have served their country much more constructively had they been allowed to live out their days in peace. It is not a question of being unwilling to die for your country. It is far more the need for the type of imagination which will visualize the possibility of living so that the country will profit by the lives of each one of its citizens. When they die, on their tombstones should be written: “John James lived from 1920-1980 and accomplished thus and so,” instead of “Here lies John James who died at the age of 20 in the service of his country in the battle of x x x.”

Memorial Day should never be given up, but as the years go by we hope that people will be honored for their lives and not for their deaths.”