Best wishes to all on this Memorial Day. It is a sobering holiday as we think of all of the brave men and women that we have lost around the world. I went this morning for dawn hike on Billy Goat trail for a quiet start of the day as the sun was coming up over the Potomac. It was glorious.
By Charlton Stanley, Weekend Contributor
As I wrote on this blog a year ago, Memorial Day is the misunderstood “holiday.” Many people confuse Memorial Day with Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day, commemorating the Armistice signed at the eleventh hour, eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. In our political and military naivete, the Armistice was meant to be the end of the, “War To End All Wars.” Two decades later it started all over again. Veteran’s Day is on November 11 in the US. Veteran’s Day is meant to honor those who served in the military in both peacetime and war, both living and dead.
Memorial Day has a history predating Armistice Day by a half century. On May May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, Decoration Day was established. It was named Decoration Day because the day was set aside for the living to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. May 30 was chosen as Decoration Day because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The tradition somehow spread to honor non-veterans as well. As a youngster, I remember churches and communities where we lived celebrating Decoration Day by placing flowers on graves in all the local cemeteries. I remember attending some of these solemn rituals as a child,. I helped out the adults by placing at least one flower on each grave. Every grave needed at least one flower. It was important to decorate the graves of those who had no relatives left, otherwise, there would be no remembrance of them. The flower was a token of remembrance, even if we didn’t know who they were. Why? Because every life needs to be remembered and honored. In 1971, Memorial Day was established by an Act of Congress. Officially, Memorial Day differs somewhat from Decoration Day as I knew it as a youngster, because it was meant by Congress to remember those who served the country in uniform and have now passed through that mysterious veil.
Now? Nothing says “honor the dead” quite like a mattress sale.
Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor
Yusef Komunyakaa, the author of the poem Facing It, was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana on April 29, 1947. He “served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star.” Komunyakaa began writing poetry in 1973.
Here is a video of Komunyakaa reading his poem Facing It, which is about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger
Friday I was reading another blog, and was stunned and appalled to read this opening line in a post (emphasis mine):
“For most of us, Memorial Day is a joyous occasion. We may think of idyllic, lazy summer days of childhood, whole months away from school. Our greatest concern might well be the inevitable traffic jams created when large groups of people head for the same destination at the same time.”
Many, including the person who wrote the statement above, mistake Veteran’s Day for Memorial Day. The day does not celebrate the veteran. It is a day of remembrance for those who never had a chance to become a veteran. Veteran’s Day is November 11, formerly called Armistice Day.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. The exact origin of the custom of decorating the graves of those who gave all in service to the country is shrouded by the mists of time and folklore. Memorial Day became official when General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued his General Order No. 11 on 5 May 1868. The first official Memorial Day observance was 30 May 1868. On that day, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Every year until 1971, Memorial Day was observed on May 30. In 1971, the National Holiday Act of 1971 was passed, making Memorial Day part of a three-day weekend. When Memorial Day became just another long weekend with a day off from work, it began to lose its meaning as a day of remembrance and reflection. The VFW’s official proclamation in 2002 stated in part,
“Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
In 1999, Senator Dan Inouye introduced a bill to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30 instead of “the last Monday in May”. The same year, Representative Gibbons introduced a bill in the house saying the same thing. Both bills were referred to Committee. Every year until his death, Senator Inouye re-introduced the bill. If anyone had the credentials to speak for veterans everywhere, it was Senator Inouye; one of the few members of Congress awarded the Medal of Honor. I hope that one day, Memorial Day will return to the original May 30. Every year that passes, a bit more of the real meaning of the day is lost.
We owe it to the dead to honor their memory. It does not matter the war, the cause, or the politics. For every one of those marble slabs in the Gardens of Stone, some parent or loved one got that terrible, awful knock on the door. When I was young, it seemed as if every other house had a gold star in the front window. Those memories are still fresh, even after all those decades. A series has been running on the Daily Kos blog called IGTNT (I Got The News Today). The series honors and remembers those Americans who lost their lives in combat or military operations in the war zone. Their names and pictures are there. Read them and weep for the loved ones left only with memories.