Allison Jaslow heard it more than once as the long holiday weekend approached -- a cheerful "Happy Memorial Day!" from oblivious well-wishers.
The former Army captain and Iraq War veteran had a ready reply, telling them, matter-of-factly, that she considered it a work weekend. Jaslow will be at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She'll then visit Section 60, the final resting place of many service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer -- think beaches and backyard barbecues, mattress sales and sporting events -- some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors more than 1 million people who died serving their country would command more respect.
Or at least awareness.
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was conceived after the Civil War as a way to honor the Union's war dead, with Southern states setting aside separate days to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. By the early 20th century, the holiday had evolved to honor all military members who died in service.
Some veterans say Memorial Day began to be watered down more than four decades ago when Congress changed the date from its traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May to give people a three-day weekend. Arguing that transformed a solemn day of remembrance into one associated with leisure and recreation, veterans groups have long advocated a return to May 30. For years, the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, asked Congress to change it back, to no avail.