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The meaning of Memorial Day: An annual reminder of the sacrifices made for our freedoms

Veterans share their wartime experiences
Posted at 3:38 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2022-05-30 14:11:07-04

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DENVER -- What is the meaning of Memorial Day to you? Of course, it's a great time to spend with family and friends, and in Colorado - that means barbecues, hiking, camping and pool parties.

But, there's also a much deeper meaning to the holiday. A time to memorialize all those who died fighting for our freedoms. 

Ask 101-year-old WWII veteran John Sekulich about the meaning of Memorial Day and you gain a great deal of appreciation.

"It means a lot to me," he said from his home in Lakewood. "I'll be 102-years-old in November."

He was on the front lines in France in WWII. He shares a story about German soldiers ambushing 80 American soldiers just ahead of his unit. All but two of them died. 

"I saw those dead bodies," Sekulich said. "My God."

Memorial Day started a few years after the Civil War. It was originally May 30, the same day of the month every year, just like Christmas.

"To me it brings back memories that are both good and bad," said 86-year-old Tom Launder from his home in Arvada. Launder served in the Navy during the Korean War.

The holiday is a time to reflect and remember all those lost

In 1970, Congress moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend.

Americans embraced the change. And with it, the question of whether the meaning of Memorial Day has been watered down.

Retail quickly found a way to capitalize on the three-day weekend, and the unofficial beginning of the summer season.

Memorial Day generates billions in sales

According to WalletHub, Americans will consume about seven billion hot dogs this weekend. And the holiday ranks second only to the 4th of July for holiday beer sales.

Police also "celebrate" the holiday with increased enforcement.

Let's be realistic, it is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Even many vets recognize that.

"It's better to live than to not," said Harvey Notov, a 98-year-old World War II vet who lives in Lone Tree. "It should be a happy holiday in a way. Yes, we have to give credence to those who died, but by the same token - we can’t live in a life that’s perpetual gloom."

Kerry Haeflinger is a mom who also sees it as a teaching moment.

"My 7-year-old thought of it as just a day that daddy gets to stay home from work," she said. "We explained to him that many people have lost (their lives) and it's a really important holiday."

That's certainly what Launder and Sekulich hope we all remember. Their sacrifice and the price so many paid for our freedom.

"I can't help but think of those guys I left over there," Sekulich said.

"We did it for one reason," Launder said. "And that was to keep us free. For the ones that are gone, you know, we just owe appreciation for what they did. They gave their life for us."