"Celebrating" Memorial Day?
By the time you read this, Memorial Day will have passed, but in the month of May, prior to its being celebrated, I have asked many about this “American Holiday”.
(thanks to Reader's Digest) Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began with an idea from General John Logan, as a way to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The first celebration on May 30, 1868, was held at Arlington National Cemetery with a crowd of 5,000 people decorating the graves of over 20,000 military personnel with flowers. Various Washington officials, including General Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home, among others, made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers, and singing hymns. Many also came prepared with a picnic lunch. The observance has since been expanded to remember the deceased soldiers of any and all wars.
It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all veterans who died in any American war. In 1971, Decoration Day became officially known as Memorial Day and Congress passed an act declaring it a national holiday. That same year, Memorial Day was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May by President Lyndon B. Johnson. “This will…enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together,” President Johnson noted in his official statement regarding what is now known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
New York was the first state to declare Memorial Day an official holiday followed by other northern states, but the southern states had their own designated day to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. The observances remained separate until the completion of World War I when Memorial Day was changed to honoring the fallen Americans who fought in any war. In 1971, the date of the holiday was officially changed to the last Monday in May per the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This act also moved other holidays such as President’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day to consistently be on Mondays. Some southern states continue to honor the Confederate dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia; May 10 in North and South Carolina; and June 3 in Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Now, I am not talking about the fact that it is a day off, and that so many have been waiting so long to be with family and friends again. I'm not talking about the pool parties, the backyard barbecues, the days on the lake, or the picnics. I hope you all took advantage of the opportunity to find such joy. For this blog, I am talking about the actual remembrance of the holiday and its meaning.
My first impression was that it shouldn't be “celebrated”. I thought it should be a day of mourning and reflection. My idea was that it was about service members who passed while serving. They should be recognized for their sacrifice. About half the people I spoke with agreed. Many were seniors and veterans, who gave up so much in service, and lost so many that they loved. We all seemed to think that our observance was logical and mainstream.
Many disagreed completely. I was enlightened by people who spoke strongly about how we need to recognize and celebrate those that allow us our current freedoms. We need to be thankful that so many brave men and women are willing to put it all on the line to protect what we have come to take for granted. I agree about that sentiment as well. My belief is that this is what “Veteran's Day” is about. They disagreed. Their thought was that although Veteran's Day recognized all members of the service, whether they served during wartime or not, and whether they passed in service or not, it was different than Memorial Day. Certainly all of our veterans should be celebrated. Veteran's Day should be that celebration. They saw Memorial Day as designated specifically to being grateful that so many were willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedoms, and that was different.
Either school of thought is wonderful I hope you all remembered, reflected and celebrated on this most recent Memorial Day and that it was the beginning of a wonderful summer to come.