It was just a phrase unwittingly tossed to T.J. Fearon - "Happy Memorial Day!" But it started him thinking about what the day on which we honor our war dead is becoming - and how its dignity can be restored.

Fearon, a Vietnam vet and liaison to New Jersey's Gold Star families, today begins a mission to change our common greeting to "Celebrate Memorial Day," and he plans to take it nationwide.

At the Brick Township VFW on Adamston Road, Fearon said that he's never argued the move many years ago from a standard May 30 observance to a flexible date for an extended weekend - "even veterans like a three day weekend," he noted wryly.

But he remains concerned that observances in memory of those who gave their lives for American ideals will only fade more deeply into our the background of our collective consciousness behind barbecues, sales, and outings.

"'Happy Memorial Day' is like a stake through the heart of hardcore veterans and Gold Star families," he said. "It demeans the meaning of it."

On the other hand, he says "Celebrate" underscores the intent. "Most family members...celebrate the life of the person who has passed," Fearon said.

The ex-Seabee started his campaign today. "This should be national campaign through the military," Fearon said. "This isn't a hotdog-hamburger-beer drinkin' cookout day. It's a day to honor and celebrate the memory of those who defended America, so they could enjoy their hotdogs and hamburgers."

Even though Memorial Day has drifted from its former fixed date, Fearon and his companions drive to the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York every May 30 and light a bonfire in the middle of the Hudson River at a minute past midnight, for all those who shipped out for battle and never returned.