Commentary Magazine


What Are You Doing Today at 3 PM?

As Jonathan observed a few weeks ago, Memorial Day in the United States has become for too many simply a day off, uninterrupted by the sparsely attended memorial events of the day. We lack what Israel has on its Remembrance Day—a two-minute national silence, when the country remembers its fallen together, with even cars on the road stopped and drivers standing silent outside them.

Few know that in 2000, Congress enacted Public Law 106-579, establishing a “National Moment of Remembrance” for 3 p.m. local time, a “time for all Americans to observe, in their own way . . . a symbolic act of unity” in order to “reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble event that day is intended to be.”

The Los Angeles National Cemetery, established in 1889 in a largely vacant area of town, is today in the middle of Westwood, with 85,000 gravestones—a reflection of the fact that Americans have served in seven wars since the cemetery was founded. Visitors will see a small flag placed at each grave, a sight both stirring and sobering, and pass stone tablets inscribed with stanzas from “Bivouac of the Dead” by Theodore O’Hara (1820–1867)—a poem filled with what David called “the language of memory and respect.” Here is an excerpt, perhaps worth rereading today at 3 p.m.:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
   The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet
   That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
   Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
   The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe’s advance
   Now swells upon the wind;
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
   Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
   The warrior’s dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
   At dawn shall call to arms.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
   Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
   The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
   While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
   Where Valor proudly sleeps.