On Monday we will commemorate Memorial Day, a custom in this country resulting from our Civil War where we honored the dead soldiers of both the North and the South. Originally, it was called Decoration Day, an expression older people would occasionally use as I remember from my youth. The intent was to honor the soldiers by decorating their graves either with small flags, flowers, or some other small tribute. Actually the custom of honoring deceased soldiers is an old one, going back to the Romans.
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated more as the start of summer vacation and the Indianapolis 500 as opposed to remembering the millions of soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country, which is rather disappointing. Fortunately, there are still people who commemorate the day with a small-town parade or observe a military service at a nearby cemetery. Two of the most impressive services are at the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery, and Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. This is where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous address that defines the meaning of Memorial Day. "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.''
One custom commonly overlooked on Memorial Day is the display of the American flag. The proper etiquette is to raise it briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lower it to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the rest of the day. Those of us with modest-sized flags at home should simply display them proudly.
One event I particularly enjoy is the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., televised on PBS. They do an admirable job of remembering our troops.
Let us never forget, Memorial Day is not about barbecues, auto racing, the end of the school year or the beginning of summer. It's about honoring our fallen heroes.
Tim Bryce, Palm Harbor
A day I will never forget
Memorial Day has always been a special day for me. On May 26, 1970, I was wounded in Cambodia. It happened to be Memorial Day weekend back home, yet we didn't think about it. We were fighting for our lives in the jungles of Cambodia with the 9th Infantry Division, then assigned to the 25th Infantry. It was on that day that we lost almost our whole company, either wounded or killed, during a 4 a.m. mortar and ground attack by the North Vietnamese Army.
I was probably the first wounded by the landing of the first mortar, but the first killed were soldiers on either side of me. Not a Memorial Day will go by without me getting emails and phone calls from my comrades. They never forgot that deadly attack, and neither will I.
When we were young we thought of Memorial Day as just another day off. But when you become a soldier and experience what the holiday's true meaning is, it means a whole lot more. Most of us survivors stay quiet and think all day of what we went through. That goes for all who served from all the wars.
I hope those this year will take a minute to think about what the day means. That we have young people dying, still today. I realize now, more then ever, I'll never put my experiences in a closet and forget about them. I was told to do that by some VA employees years ago, but those who think you can just throw your feelings and memories away disrespect me and my comrades.
Don't worry, our fallen heroes, we didn't let you die in vain.
Phil Ferrazano, Clearwater
What I learned in Cuba | May 19, Perspective
Puerto Rican rights
Although I agree with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor on establishing better relations with Cuba, I think that a larger injustice is being overlooked regarding Cuba's sister island of Puerto Rico. The history of these two Caribbean islands is intertwined. Although the United States let one achieve its independence and the other not, there exists still a degree of solidarity among its people.
I was born and lived in San Juan through the civil unrest of the '60s in a Puerto Rico where just displaying the Puerto Rican flag assured you a spot in the infamous police dossiers along with the "radical" independence advocates. Now the party that promotes statehood is using the argument, used by those '60s "radicals," that Puerto Rico is a colony and we are second-class U.S. citizens.
Citizenship was granted by the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917, and Puerto Ricans have been fighting in wars and conflicts for the United States ever since. Nevertheless we are still treated as second-class citizens since we are unable to vote for president and do not have representation in Congress.
I am afraid that the latest attempt at resolving the status issue (HR 2000) will end up once again in the to-do pile of Washington's bureaucracy. Yes, Rep. Castor, let's fix Cuba; but first look into your own back yard and allow Puerto Ricans the right to choose their own destiny.
Victor J. Cruz, Tampa
Council warns: Turn it down | May 17
Proposal raises a ruckus
I first came to Tampa in 2006 as a student attending the University of South Florida and will be returning to this city as a resident in the coming months. I am a professional, an adult, and above all, a motorsports enthusiast.
I enjoy the roar of a well-tuned engine as much as the beautiful throaty rumble of a Harley-Davidson as it is rolling down the street. I enjoy classic car shows, driving around randomly with the top down, and lazy Sunday rides with friends. I however am concerned that there is a proposed law before the City Council that would affect these things that I currently love to do.
In the opinion of some city officials, noise is noise. My stereo has not been modified on the Harley that I ride. It's an Ultra-Glide, and the factory speakers can be heard from over 50 feet away when I am riding. If this law is enacted with the penalty of possibly placing me in jail for enjoying music while riding around town, what would stop the council from passing laws pertaining to the decibel level of exhaust?
If this law is based on profiling standards of the local law enforcement community, why should I ride? Will I be profiled for being a Harley rider with noise? Or will Harley riders be given a pass and only those with modified stereos in cars be targeted?
Laws need to be absolute, and the enforcement of this law simply cannot be that.
Matthew Coppens, Naples
Lens is ugly, unwanted | May 22, letter
Differing styles coexist
I ask the letter writer: What exactly is an architectural style that "reflects the character and history of our city"? Is it the Mediterranean Revival of Snell Isle, the Craftsman of Historic Old Northeast, the stone homes of Allendale, the "old Florida" of Driftwood? Or, might it be the postmodern of the inverted pyramid and Bayfront Tower or the contemporary of the Dalí Museum and Ovation?
The point is that the beauty of St. Petersburg is its organic approach to architecture. The new adds to the old, without replacing it. Styles coexist. This is unlike Phoenix, for example, where everything has to be new, homogeneous and boring.
A jury of independent professionals picked the winning design. There are 250,000 opinions in the city; the letter writer's is only one. You cannot design by referendum.
Hal Freedman, St. Petersburg
Dana Summers cartoon | May 21
Passing the buck
The cartoon was very appropriate and should be followed up with one showing President Harry Truman at his desk in the White House with his famous presidential operating philosophy: "The buck stops here." Then, a second White House scene with President Barack Obama with his presidential operating philosophy of "The buck stops there," with both his arms extended and the fingers pointing in all directions.
Most Americans, particularly seniors, will understand the difference.
Chester R. Ferguson, Sun City Center
Watchdog: IRS issue is deeper | May 23
The case of the two f-words
A front-page photo of renowned public watchdog Fred Wertheimer that accompanied a report on the IRS scandal carried a caption stating that he has accused "some tax-exempt groups (of) flaunting the tax laws." Not so.
To flaunt means to display with ostentation. When one reads the story, it is clear that Wertheimer is upset with groups that have been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS who have allegedly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the statute by engaging in partisan political campaigns rather than social welfare activities. In other words, they have scoffed at, mocked, even openly defied the purpose of the statute. The word for that is flout, not flaunt.
My dictionary notes the two words "are often confused," but one would have hoped not on the front page of the Times.
Fred Kalhammer, Sun City Center