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Friday, May 27, 2011

The Meaning of Memorial Day

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” — Mark Twain

With Memorial Day Just around the corner I would like to comment on the meaning of the day. I begin with the question; What is Memorial Day? Is it:

  1. The unofficial kick-off of Summer
  2. A great weekend to find deals on just about everything
  3. The Indianapolis 500
  4. Time to honor the men and women who gave their lives serving our country
  5. All of the above

Sadly, ‘All of the above’ is the correct answer, with numbers 1, 2, & 3 obscuring the most important meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day (originally known as “Decoration Day”) traces its roots back to the middle of the 19th century when General John Logan issued General Order #1 on May 5, 1868, stating;

“Gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime. Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier‘s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”

Memorial Day became a three-day weekend event back in 1971 when 1968′sSONY DSC Uniform Holidays law took effect, mandating the move of three holiday observances to the closest Mondays. This did make for long weekends, but some say, the move diluted the real meaning of Memorial Day, putting the focus on recreation and relaxation instead of the sacrifice of our military.

How should you mark Memorial Day? The folks at US Memorial Day offer some tips;

  • By visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • By visiting memorials.
  • By flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon.
  • By flying the ‘POW/MIA Flag’ as well (Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act).
  • By participating in a “National Moment of Remembrance“: at 3 p.m. to pause and think upon the true meaning of the day, and for Taps to be played.
  • By renewing a pledge to aid the widows, widowers, and orphans of our fallen dead, and to aid the disabled veterans.

For the families and friends of those who died in service to America, every single day is Memorial Day, as they are forced to carry on without a loved one. The least we can do is pause at 3pm on Monday for a Moment of Remembrance.

Many will say that we have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day and perhaps in some regions or cities of the country they may be right, but not in Riverside County, California. Last year, while returning home from dropping my daughter at the Ontario Airport, my wife and I attempted to stop by the Medal of Honor Cemetery in Riverside. It was around 10:00 am and as we approached the off ramp from the 210 freeway to Van Buren Street the traffic slowed to a crawl. The cars were lined up for a mile or more waiting to get into the memorial. In that I had been there before an written an article about my visit we decided not to join the crowd entering the Memorial.

As we passed the cemetery we could see that each grave was marked with an American Flag. It was quite site.

Riverside National Cemetery is the third-largest cemetery managed by the _FHP5101National Cemetery Administration, and since 2000 has been the most active in the system based on the number of interments. It was established in 1976 through the transfer of 740 acres from March Air Force Base. The cemetery was dedicated and opened for burials Nov. 11, 1978. An additional 181 acres was transferred by the Air Force in 2003. The dramatic, meandering landscape features a central boulevard (LeMay Blvd.) with memorial circles, lakes, indigenous-styled committal shelters, and the Medal of Honor Memorial.

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor.

On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced SB. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by authorizing the production and distribution of   "medals of honor". On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War)." President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.

Soon afterwards the Army followed suite and eventually all military personnel, including spies would be eligible for the Medal. On February 13, 1861 Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin rescued 60 soldiers of 2nd Lieutenant George Bascom's unit at Apache Pass, AZ. Though the Medal of Honor had not yet been proposed in Congress (and actually wouldn't even be presented to Irwin until 1894), it was the first heroic act for which the Medal of Honor would be awarded). On May 24, 1861, in Alexandria, VA Army Private Francis Edwin Brownell performed the first action of the Civil War to merit the Medal of Honor.

During the Civil War there were 1,520 Medals of Honor awarded including: 11 for actions at the first battle of Manassas (Bull Run), 20 for Antietam, 19, at Fredericksburg, 96 for Vicksburg, 52 at Petersburg, and 58 at Gettysburg. Other actions where the Medal was awarded are: 24 for actions at the Little Big Horn (1876), 109 sailors and Marines aboard the Battleship Maine in Manila Harbor (Feb 15, 1898), and 29 for the Boxer Rebellion (June 20, 1900). On May 3, 1919 Sergeant Alvin C. York was awarded the MOH six months after the end of WWI. This would mark a milestone in the history of the Medal. It and its recipients would now be made celebrities by the press and films.

Only one Coastguardsman was ever awarded the Medal. Canadian born Douglas Munro received the Medal for his actions on Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942. For all of their heroic actions in World War II Japanese-Americans fighting with the 442nd Infantry Regiment received only Medal. PFC Sadao S. Munemori became the only Japanese-American of the war to earn his Nation's highest honor. His Medal of Honor, presented posthumously to his mother, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

It is an awe-inspiring experience to walk through the Memorial and ponder on some of the engraved names realizing that each name has a story attached01-Michael-Monsoor to it. That story is the citation that goes with the Medal. One of the latest recipients is Master-at Arms, Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL. He received his Medal for actions in Ramadi, Iraq. His citation reads thusly:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as automatic weapons gunner for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Arabian Peninsula, in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 29 September 2006. “

Recently the Navy has launched the USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) to be the second ship of the Zumwalt class of guided missile destroyers.

If you live near the Riverside Medal of Honor Cemetery it is well worth you time to pay respect to those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. But, get there early if you want to get in to the cemetery, its always crowded. There is also the alternative of going the day before or the day after Memorial Day. The flags will be there and you can still pay your respects.

After you pay your respects to those that have sacrificed for this nation and you return home to gather with family and friends I offer the following tip for making the best hamburger you will ever eat.

First of all I love hamburgers — they are truly American. the French have their crepes, the Germans have their bratwurst, the Italians have their pizza and spaghetti, the Japanese have their sushi, and the Mexicans have their tacos. The Americans have the best possible food treat of all — the hamburger. It’s as American as apple pie, if not more so, even if Michelle Obama doesn’t think so. But, who cares what Michelle Obama thinks.

Raymond Sokolov, the food critic for the Wall Street Journal, says, and I agree, that the world’s best burger is made with ground chuck. Forget the fancier grades of meat. Ground sirloin is unnecessary; ground Kobe just a foolish extravagance. Sokolov says chuck has “the Goldilocks amount of fat.” It’s not too fat and not too lean. In short, it’s just right. The patty should be thick enough that you can char the outside and the meat will remain moist on the inside. And we both like ours medium rare — hot enough to melt the fat, rare enough so you get the full flavor of the beef.

Another food critic says the only way to get the perfect burger is to grind your own hamburger, from meat you have carefully selected from the butcher’s counter. He even gave instructions on how to pulse it properly in a food processor, but that sounds like a prescription for disaster to me. If you’re going to be this authentic (which certainly isn’t necessary), why not go all the way and buy an old-fashioned grinder with a hand-turned crank, like your grandma used? Does anyone anywhere do this at home?

Grill or griddle? Ah, there’s a division that could keep strong men arguing for weeks. It seems to be a truism in America that if it’s cooked on a stove, the women do it. And if it’s cooked outdoors, that’s a guy’s job. I don’t mean to be sexist here; I’m just passing on an observation I’ve heard many others make.

So I was surprised to learn that all of Sokolov’s favorites were cooked on a griddle — and most of the time (but not at his No. 1 choice) by a man. Maybe there is something special about the taste from a griddle that hasn’t been cleaned in years. (Scraped, sure. But washed — with soap, water, and a wire brush? — never!) This is how my Hungarian grandmother used to make me pork chops, something I have never been able to duplicate. I can still taste those flavorful, moist chops to this day.

Cook and critic David Rosengarten says he comes close to duplicating the magical flavor of a well-seasoned grill at home. What’s his secret? He keeps some beef fat in his refrigerator for just such occasions. And don’t worry if it’s been in there a while. He says it won’t go bad. In fact, he insists a little age is good for it.

“Just get that pan a little shiny with melted fat,” he says. When you’re done, “put your fat treasure back in the fridge. You will have made a major advance toward the ravishing taste of griddledom.”

Personally, I think a red-hot grill seals in the flavors in a way no griddle can. In the past, I didn’t care if the flame came from propane or charcoal. That’s a view that would be considered heresy by all of my barbecue buddies. I I have a natural gas grill in the yard and I think it works just fine.

There’s just something special about a burger that’s seared on a grill. Slap a piece of cheddar or American cheese on top, close the lid and let the cheese melt while the burger steams. The result will transport you to hamburger heaven.

What about the bun?

I have heard there are places where hamburgers are served on toasted white bread, but I have never seen such apostasy with my own eyes. There are many ways to serve hamburgers that are wrong. Kaiser rolls, for one. But as far as I’m concerned, only one way is right. Go to your local supermarket and get yourself some plain hamburger buns. Not bagels or buns covered with sesame seeds. Not pretzel twists or other weird concoctions. Just plain buns. Nothing does a better job holding everything together while it keeps your fingers clean.

Slice them in half and, when your burgers are almost done, lay them cut-side down on the back of the grill. Keep them there for no more than two minutes. If your timing is right, your lightly toasted buns will be ready when your hamburgers are.

What else do you put on it?

If you think there’s disagreement about where the world’s best burger is cooked, wait until you ask a few folks what should go on it when it’s done. Or, in the case of cheese, just before it’s done.

I’m perfectly fine with turning a hamburger into a cheeseburger. I’m not even all that fussy about what kind of cheese is used. Those single slices of processed something by Kraft are OK by me, but many critics will turn up their distinguished noses at anything but hand-sliced pieces of the finest cheddar. They are just hamburger snobs.

Pickle slices? Not for me. But I’ll have them handy if someone else wants eco-friendly-organic-garden-beefsteak-tomatoesthem. Lettuce and tomato? Absolutely!. But make sure to use fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce (not romaine or that stuff that passes for lettuce that grows along the shoulder of the highway that is served in fancy restaurants). As for the tomatoes, try to get a fresh, red, beefsteak not one of those anemic ones that are imported from Mexico. I also like a spoonful of Thousand Island dressing. Crushed corn flakes? I’d never heard of such a thing until I read Sokolov’s column. That still strikes me as a bit weird.

Some people can go for a nice slice or two of bacon on top of the cheese. But please don’t overcook it. It should be a little bit chewy, not dry and crunchy. And please note: If you’re going to put bacon on your burger, you must lay down a slice of cheese first. As Frank Sinatra used to sing, you can’t have one without the other. I personally eschew the bacon as overpowers the taste of everything else. If you want bacon try a BLT.

What about onions? Most of the time I skip them — I tend to taste them forred_onion the rest of the day.. Some people prefer a, medium-thick slice of a Vidalia onion. Others feel the same way about Bermudas. Raw is fine. Sautéed until they’re slightly caramelized is even better. But don’t expect that when I’m cooking; that’s too much extra work for me. If you really want a mild and tasty onion try the Red onion — to me they are the best.

And if you want someone to sauté onions and mushrooms together for your burger, I’ve got news for you, buddy. You don’t want a hamburger; you want a Salisbury steak.

Now, are you ready for the shocker? Somewhere on his cross-country odyssey, Sokolov was persuaded that mustard is better on a burger than ketchup. How did this happen? Who got to him? I can’t prove it, but I suspect that money from the Mustard Council may have changed hands. Mustard is for hot dogs, not hamburgers.

Where’s the best burger joint?

Now you know all there is to know about making the world’s best burger at home. (Or at least start a mighty good argument about how to do it.) But where can you find the, tastiest commercial version? I’m very proud to announce that the best burger you can buy at a commercial establishment is at Bob’s Big Boy.

I hope you and your friends enjoy some fabulous cookouts this summer. I promise I’ll be following my own recommendations: ground chuck cooked medium rare, with cheese and some other accoutrements on top. If I’ve done it right, the bun will be lightly toasted. And the applause will be gratifying.

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