The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 27, 2013

Exactly what is Memorial Day?

By John David O'Neal IV
guest columnist

— Today we celebrate Memorial Day. It’s the start of summer — a chance to spend time with family and friends, perhaps a cookout or a mini vacation with the family. Some will visit the graves of loved ones; others may attend a parade or special service. But what is this day that we celebrate, Memorial Day?

At a time when only about one percent of the American people bear the burden of our defense, many of us do not have a connection to anyone that has served in our armed forces. We may enjoy certain holidays throughout the year — Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day — without understanding their significance.

The holiday that we celebrate today began with an annual practice of visiting the graves of Civil War dead in the 1860s. It turned into an official holiday known as Decoration Day, which was celebrated in all of the states by 1890. Decoration Day gradually came to be known as Memorial Day, and evolved to commemorate all American military personnel who had died in service to our country.

For decades, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, which was the date of the first Decoration Day. But in 1971 Memorial Day was established as a federal holiday on the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.

We should honor our veterans throughout the year; they are heroes, each and every one. But today, Memorial Day, we remember specifically those who gave America the most precious thing they had  — “the last full measure of devotion.” And because of their sacrifice, we became and remain a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world.

On a personal note, we are proud of our relatives that have served honorably in the military. Our family is fortunate in that we have not lost a loved one in military service, but we do have a dear friend that gave his life for our country nearly thirty years ago.

Mecot Camara was an all-American boy. Raised in Hinton in Summers County, he was the son of an immigrant father from the Philippines, and an American mother. Mecot’s father, Dr. Prudencio Camara, settled his family in Hinton in 1963, where he established a medical practice, eventually becoming Chief of Staff at Summers County Hospital. Dr. Camara is the doctor that brought me into this world, his first baby delivery, even though he was not an OBGYN. (Such is the life of a small town doctor). He also served on the Summers County Board of Education, and was selected as an Elks Club Man of the Year.

Dr. Camara is a great American immigrant success story. One of fourteen children, he came to America looking for a better life for his family. He worked hard and pursued the American dream. He and his wife Jean found it.

The family became Americans, not hyphenated Americans. They were active volunteers in community and church service, generous with their time and resources. They became pillars of the community. Threase, Mecot, and Elisa were their children. They attended the local public schools, were well liked and involved in many activities. They were typical American kids.

Mecot loved to hunt and fish, and he loved playing football and baseball. He was a great friend, teammate, and leader. He loved this country. Upon graduating from high school, Mecot enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. His family and community were incredibly proud.

In the fall of 1983 Sgt. Mecot Camara was one of 241 American servicemen killed, along with 56 French soldiers, in Beirut, Lebanon, by a suicide bomber from Islamic Jihad, later known as Hezbollah. He left behind a young widow, and an infant son that bears his name. He gave his life for the country he loved. His family, friends, and community miss him dearly.

The story of Mecot Camara is one that has been told throughout our history — from our earliest days, when a small group of revolutionaries stood up to an Empire, through a Civil War, World Wars, battles against fascism, communism, tyrants and dictators, to our struggles today against Violent Islamic Extremists.

Each time a threat has risen against us, Americans have responded. Because of that courage to fight, and even die, the United States of America endures.

So, as we enjoy our families and fire up the grill today, let’s pause for a moment to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep the torch of liberty burning brightly for all Americans.

Happy Memorial Day, and God bless the USA!

— O’Neal is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.