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Hail to the Chief(s)

A moment with Mary Ann

February 21, 2009
by Mary Ann Menendez - Staff Writer

Does anybody have a clue what Sunday is?

If you need a few hints, then you must be told or reminded that Feb. 22 was once touted as an unofficial American holiday and that it is the birth date of one our very important presidents.

If you are still stumped, don't feel too badly because Presidents Day has sort of obscured the importance of this date and one other in February.

Feb. 22, 1732, marked the birth of George Washington, our first President. Feb. 12, 1809, the other date now hidden in history, is the birth date for another beloved American President, Abraham Lincoln who was the 16th commander in chief. I did see there was some noise this year as 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Abe's entrance into the world.

February was a grand time to be an American grade school student back in the 60s. While the shortest month of the year, it was filled with special dates, including Groundhog Day on the second, Lincoln's birthday on the 12th, Valentine's Day on the 14th, Washington's birthday on the 22nd, and every four years, Leap Year Day on the 29th.

Teachers made it an educational experience month. We researched information about groundhogs and leap years for science class, Valentine's Day just for fun, and the two of the greatest presidents ever for social studies.

Most mothers didn't work in those days, so many of us went home to cherry pie for dessert on Washington's birthday. If you don't remember the tie-in for that, he was the honest son who could not tell a lie, and yes he did tell his father he chopped down the cherry tree.

The 90th Congress in 1968 decided it was time to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. Their vote shifted three holidays, one of which was Washington's birthday, to Monday celebrations.

So George's day was attached to the third Monday in February. While there was controversy, the vote passed. The law went into effect in 1971. Many Washington loyalists knew the third Monday of the month would never fall on Feb. 22.

Somehow today, Presidents Day can't compare to the way Americans once honored two great chiefs.

While it may be said that every U.S. President needs to be recognized for serving his country, somehow lumping all of them, their deeds and actions into one day dilutes the significance and sacrifices of George and Abe.

It was Washington who said, "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."

He also said, "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

Lincoln was quoted as saying, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." He also said, "Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm."

Let's hope all of America's children know something of Valley Forge, Crossing the Delaware, the Gettysburg Address and the Great Emancipator.

It would be a shame if they don't.



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