Memorial Day is a special holiday, and not just because it honors those who gave their lives for our nation. It was a spontaneous holiday that came about because it seemed necessary more than politically expedient. There was little official about it until long after it was part of our national calendar.
It started with some obscurity with unclear in its origins. The hundreds of thousands of graves of soldiers killed in the Civil War seemed to deserve a little sprucing up once a year as a way to honor their sacrifice. Weeds were cleared, flowers were placed, and a small flag was set to decorate the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. “Decoration Day”, as it became known, apparently started even before the war was over in some places. The time of year was picked simply because the start of summer was when the earth itself was renewing.
The first declaration of a national holiday came in 1868. The Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veteran’s organization that maintained a military structure, called on all its members to have a unified Decoration Day on the last Monday of May. They had an enormous amount of political pull, so the celebrations were held across the North were often closely tied with government. It wasn’t until after WWI that the South observed the same Decoration Day. The day and name “Memorial Day” wasn’t officially recognized by the Federal Government until 1967.
Lack of official recognition never stopped anyone in the USofA, or at least it didn’t used to, so Memorial Day has long been one of our cherished traditions. I was once in Brownwood, Texas and saw the graves of the local cemetery carefully decorated with the appropriate flags. A US veteran got the stars and stripes, a Confederate veteran the stars and bars, and the veterans of the Texas War of Independence the lone star. One grave had all three, a fearsome sight that made me glad he wasn’t someone I had to deal with alive today.
It’s not just the tradition that makes this a holiday worth celebrating, however. It’s about doing what’s right by those living and dead. We do well to remember those who came before us and what they did to make the world the way it is. A few moments to recall that we are where we now for a very good reason, a reason far too often soaked with blood, does more than helps us to appreciate what we have. That spirit has gotten us through a lot, and it can get us through whatever challenges lie ahead.
It’s our turn now, and while we’re not generally called on to fight in war we are called on to take our turn and serve. Those guys under the white tombstones gave far more than what we’re being asked to give. The least we can do is keep their markers and spruced up. We shouldn’t remember them today because we are told to, we should do it because it’s the right thing to do. That, and so much more.
erik, I am going to offer a few of my thoughts and I do so with the hope and belief that they will be listened to with common courtesy.
I have mixed feelings about this day. My grandfather served in WWI, an extremely modest and hardworking farmer. Three uncles served in WWII, two led very successful lives, the other was institutionalized for the rest of his life. One cousin served in Vietnam, fought alcoholism for 10 years, remained infertile has gone on to live a long and succesful life. One cousin went on to make military service his career. I am not sure but my extended family seems to take a quiter view of memorial day and veteran’s day in some ways now seems just to be a government holiday for their workers (but honestly I am looking forward to your essay on that day or if you have one backlisted in your catalouge let me know). Maybe its a time of year when my relatives are too busy farming, although the wheat and corn must be planted by now. It’s too early to cultivate.
There are others to memorialize. My mother whose life was transformed for the better by WWII. A rural small town young woman who got training and service in the civilian nursing corps, extras who were needed because of the increased demand for services. My mother in law who spent many long nights and days delivering babies and other assorted doctor duties and would recieve an occasional hate mail because she was a woman.
I tend a grave site and nature always seems to win. Perhaps it is too far away or the soil is too sandy.
It has been said the american people pay so much for their government and get so little in return. Ask anyone without health insurance or paying for expensive but minimal coverage. We have an army and military structure bigger than the rest of the world combined. Our presence is known across the world. These statements come from a liberal who supported the second gulf war in the misled washinton consensus that it may be the catalyst to transform/democratize the middle east. Now I cast my hope upon the vast numbers of young iranians that there may be a second more secular change in that country.
A working group does not have the option of forming a union or having their employer forced into mediation unless of course you work for the government. You also have to generally work more time in this country than other advanced economies. Well we got freedom of religion which by the way other countries also have. Our kids have one of the shortest school years in the advanced world courtesy of both political parties. Very little worker retraining you’re on your own bud! If you’re a B+ student you will face high education bills. Why do we rely on foodshelves when George McGovern and Robert Dole (that communist) came up with a better system?. Reagan said foodshelves started in the 80’s in response to deindustrialization were only to be temporary. He’s a linguistic genuis. Of course the Japanese and asian electric mini steel mills beat us out. What were those men supposed to do become realestate salesmen and support higher finance albeit cleaner? Sorry to get this off my chest but much of american national holidys seem to enforce a hegemony of opinion.
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