First, let me say, if you remember your lost loved ones on Memorial Day, good. There should be more people like you. Even if your loved ones, specially if your loved ones, did not die while on duty in service in the armed forces. You may not like the way I start today, but stay with me to the end, and then, just think about what I say.
Now, onto my purpose today, one of my biggest ‘pet peeves’ is Memorial Day. Actually, the way we observe Memorial Day. Memorial Day is officially the observance of those who died on active duty in the armed forces while in service to their country. Today, in America we put flags on the graves of every person who served in the military. We also use today to honor our deceased loved ones … family, friends, even pets … most of whom never even served in the military and certainly did not die while on active duty. And do not get me started on the “commercial” side of Memorial Day.
I know that when I die, every Memorial Day there will be placed on my grave a small American flag (usually by a veterans group, religious group, or a youth organization). If I could, I would reach from below the earth covering my grave and yank that flag down. I lived to the end of my military service, hung up my uniform, and took my place among the ranks of LIVING veterans. Memorial Day was not intended be a day to remember my military service or me. It was intended to remember men (and women) like my great-uncle. My great-uncle died at the battle of Belleau Wood while in the army in World War 1.
Belleau Wood was a surprise attack by German forces in June 1918 (during World War One). The American allies retreated from the onslaught, leaving the United States Army in its front-line positions on its own. The United States Marine Corps, the only help to the embattled and surrounded soldiers in the trenches. It was during this battle that the German soldiers nick-named the marines “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs”. It was in that battle the US Marines established themselves as a disciplined, tenacious, elite fighting force; the battle also marked the death of my great-uncle. He was a young man in the prime of youth, who left behind neither children or wife to mourn his passing. He sacrificed all of that and more for our freedom. Memorial Day belongs to him and his brothers and sisters who have joined him in making the ultimate sacrifice for us.
Our present Memorial Day was actually copied from an earlier memorial day observance … Confederate Memorial Day established in Columbus, Georgia in 1866.
As in most wars, the men who are tasked with fighting and dying are the poorest among us. Those men who did most of the dying in Confederate grey could not afford to own slaves (unlike their generals), and often had to compete against the slave labor just to feed their own families. Many of those young men fought simply because there was an invading army of blue that had march onto daddy’s farm. As in all wars, the reasons men fight are as varied as the men themselves. Confederate Memorial Day was about honoring those men, and not about racism or hatred, a “Lost Cause” or even a lost nation. Many of those men left behind families who were now destitute and still grieving their loss. As with many of the families of the Titanic, the world was a cruel place for a family without a husband and father to provide for the family. Life, as hard as it was to be poor in the south before the war; was unimaginable for a poor family in the destroyed south after the war without its patriarch. Those families (as with many Titanic families) would never recover from the loss.
In 1868, the veteran’s organization Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) called for a national day called Decoration Day to honor fallen union dead. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day. But, it was not until 1967 (more than a century after Confederate Memorial Day) that memorial Day became an official federal holiday.
From its earliest roots, Memorial Day, has always been about honoring those men and women killed while serving their nation. Veterans Day is about honoring all veterans … living and dead … who served their nation. If you want to stick a flag on my grave, do it on Veterans Day, but do me a favor and wait until I’m occupying it first.
Most nations have a day to honor fallen war dead, but they also have something the United States does not, a Remembrance Day. In different nations it goes by different names, but Remembrance Day is a day to honor family and friends who did not die a premature death in service to their country. In Russia, families take a picnic lunch and go to the cemetery. At the cemetery they repair, replace, clean, scrub, weed, plant flowers and so many other little things to honor their lost love ones. This is an annual national day in Russia. THIS is the day to honor our non-war dead, not Memorial Day. This is a day we need to have in the United States, and maybe one day, when we learn our own past and honor it, we may have a Remembrance Day.
I once heard a tired old veteran say something I have never forgotten. He was standing over the grave of a man barely two decades old who died in World War Two, a young man too young to leave behind a wife and children to remember him.
He said, “The worse death of all is the second death. To die for your country and then to be forgotten, that is the second death.”
When we add all of our other loved ones to Memorial Day, we are doing that very thing. They become lost in the sea of grief we shed for all our lost loved ones and they die the death of being forgotten. All those men and women deserve better from us. Yes, even those young boys who wore grey so many years ago.
- Remembering Memorial Day (trueboots.wordpress.com)
- Man on the Edge – The Real Memorial Day (wccbcharlotte.com)
- Memorial Day Remembrance Cupcakes (whitneylabrie.com)
- Memorial Day 2013: History, Facts By The Numbers (huffingtonpost.com)
- Decoration Day (kblakecash.wordpress.com)
- Memorial Day events in Wichita area to honor veterans (kansas.com)
- A day of remembrance (wenatcheeworld.com)
- This Memorial Day… (iwanttowearskinnyjeans.com)