06/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Memorial Day: Sound the Sirens

I'm writing today to honor the heroes and to create a new possibility. This is not a dip into politics; it is about living in our culture and society and honoring the heroes who died for our country. I'm asking for your help to create this simple furtherance of our Memorial Day observance.

As we were racing around to plan our shopping and picnics I ran into an elderly gentleman being mostly ignored at the grocery store as he tried to trade poppies for donations. He was part of a Veterans of Foreign Wars campaign to raise funds for the care of wounded veterans.

Ours is a prosperous neighborhood but this well dressed senior citizen was being treated just a little better than a homeless person begging for spare change. Judging by his clothes he could probably just as easily fill the collection box from his own pocket and make better use of his time. So why, I wondered, would he stand there being ignored by the well heeled?

The answer took me a while and I can only guess now but I think I have it: standing there he was reminding us that it is the soldier we're remembering, not the war. It started me thinking and I did a little research.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in the late 1800s in various forms in many different communities but with the main intention of laying flowers on the graves of soldiers, in honor of their service. Later, General John A. Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran's organization, declared a national day of observance for all of those killed in a war. May 30th was picked as the date because it was a day of peace, not a date famous for any battle fought on it. Many southern states at first saw Decoration Day as a day to honor the Union soldiers from the Civil War and refused to honor it. Memorial Day is a day to honor the war dead, as Veteran's Day is a day to honor all who serve in the armed forces, living and dead.

By the end of World War II Memorial Day had a more unifying effect for our country but it was not an official Federal Holiday until 1967. In 1971 the May 30 observance was changed to the last Monday in May to be part of the 1969 Uniform Holidays Act, giving us 3-day weekends and, in present form, a day for sales, sales, sales.

Which is why a well dressed older gentleman puts his ego on hold and stands in front of the grocery store exchanging poppies for pocket change.

Here is my suggestion:
In May of 2000 President Bill Clinton called for a National Moment of Remembrance for 60 seconds at 3PM every Memorial Day. I suggest that we as a nation follow Israel's example and sound off all city emergency sirens for that one minute. All activities cease at this time, cars pull off the road, even on the highways, and people stand at attention.

No matter where people would be, at the mall, on a beach, at a barbecue or at the cemetery putting a wreath on a veteran's grave, they would all be present to the intention of the day. For 60 seconds there'd be no arguing for or against anything, there'd just be silence and presence. This could be done at 3PM EST (time zone at Arlington National Cemetery) and each time zone adjust accordingly so that everyone, from the east coast to the west, could be united.

My idea is simple, but not easy. It can be accomplished though. I'm asking all of you to get busy this Memorial Day for the sake of next Memorial Day. Take this idea and get busy lobbying friends and local politicians to enact this "Sound the Sirens" initiative in your community for next year. Don't wait for anyone else; let's do this one community at a time.

Using all of the social media tools available to us we could create this campaign on a national level virally. All YOU need to do is to convince your own community to sound the sirens and we'll build from there. At stake is one minute of national unity -- let's fight for it.

Thank you to the veteran who stood outside of my store. Thank you to the veterans, police, fire and security personnel who've given their lives to keep our country safe.

See how it works in Israel:

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