Today is Patriots’ Day, the day that people all over the world know more commonly as the day the Boston Marathon is run. Of course, in its 122nd year, this day doesn’t only mark the world’s oldest race; it also commemorates the critical battles that led directly to the birth of our nation.
Not to be confused with Patriot Day, the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Patriots’ Day is a state holiday observed on the third Monday in April each year. It was first proclaimed by Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge in 1894 in Massachusetts. Today, Maine, Wisconsin, and (for the first time this year) Connecticut join the Bay State in recognizing Patriots’ Day as an important symbol of American independence.
The Significance of Patriots’ Day
Before 1775, the Northeast consisted largely of colonies controlled by Britain. Then came the American Revolutionary War and the battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place on April 19, 1775. This was the date we celebrated until 1969, when Patriots’ Day was made the third Monday in April to create a long weekend.
Paul Revere is one of the many brave patriots we celebrate on this day. The American silversmith is known for warning the Lexington Minutemen about the British invasion on his famous “midnight” ride. He is now a major symbol of the Revolution.
Remembering people like Revere, who put themselves on the line for their country, makes events that happened before our time all the more real. Likewise, the modern-day wars we fight today, fought by American heroes just like Revere, deserve the same empathy and recognition.
The Ongoing Battles of Present-Day Patriots
Like our American patriots of the past, armed service members and first responders have worked fearlessly to protect our freedoms throughout modern history. As such, today is just as much a time to celebrate present-day heroes – many of whom are actively fighting private battles at home.
Many of America’s 18.5 million veterans fought in battles to protect our freedoms – during World War II, the War in Vietnam, the Korean War, and the more-recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they also fought unknown risks. Many of our military members, especially those whose active-duty days are long over, were exposed to an enemy once hailed a “miracle mineral”: asbestos. Used for reinforcing and insulating military bases, ships, and equipment, asbestos is now known as a lethal toxin, one that causes the fatal lung disease mesothelioma.
The link between mesothelioma and veterans is now very significant. While they make up only 8 percent of the population, veterans account for a disproportionately high one-third of all mesothelioma fatalities. Even veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma recently face a similar fate in their struggle to secure adequate health benefits.
Veterans Day is another opportunity to recognize the challenges these brave men and women face. But why wait for a special day to recognize them? This Patriots’ Day, let’s salute not only those historic Americans that freed our country from tyranny, but the heroes still living today, for whom the fight is not yet over.
How to Celebrate in Massachusetts This Year
Besides the Boston Marathon and a day off work or school, Patriots’ Day is observed in several ways. Most notably, the 1775 battles are recreated for the public to learn from. Today, for example:
- Concord holds a battle demonstration between British and Colonial soldiers at North Bridge, followed by the Patriots’ Day Parade.
- Roxbury honors William Dawes, another midnight rider who traveled through the town to warn about the invasion. Today kicks off with a free breakfast and the Unsung Hero Awards at the First Church of Roxbury. Afterward, visitors can take part in a tour of the neighborhood.
- You can also ring an exact replica of “The Alarm” at Old Belfry, Lexington, a bell used to summon Minutemen to fight.
- Lectures, concerts, road races, and other small events will also take place throughout the day. Here is a full schedule.
Finally, think of ways you can celebrate an unsung hero still alive today. Sometimes a simple “thank you” can mean a lot to the people who sacrificed so much for our benefit. If you know a veteran with mesothelioma, you can take even more meaningful action. Any day of the year –Veterans Day, Patriots’ Day, or not – we can take a break from our busy schedules to demand better care for our veterans. It’s the least we can do to honor all that they’ve done for us.