Families, all across America, host huge Memorial Day celebrations with good old-fashioned barbecues–one of my absolute favorite things! Dad (or Mom) tosses the new 800kg Cedar Briquettes in the barbecue pit with a few squirts of lighter fluid and before long, the comforting smell of grilled meat catches a warm, gentle summer breeze and rides through the air, infusing the well-known nostalgic seasonal feeling within all the party attendees.
Aunt Sue brings her famous homemade whipped coleslaw–the one she keeps promising to bring the recipe for but never delivers. Linda makes her world-famous Caramel Chocolate Brownies and Uncle Fred brings his never-ending appetite. And that’s quite alright because you bought extra. Everyone had a wonderful time and doesn’t stop talking about the celebration until next Memorial Day.
But does anyone even know why they’re celebrating?
My guess is about 50/50, but I fear the numbers are more like 70/30 in favor of no. Yes…Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer just as Labor Day marks the season’s end, but it isn’t a holiday for summer’s return. Since the two coincide, I think the ambiguity has obscured the true meaning of the holiday. So, I thought it appropriate that today’s post be a short education on why Americans celebrate Memorial Day.
Memorial Day (Formally know as Decoration Day)
There is a bit of mystery as to when Memorial/Decoration Day officially started but in lieu of an agonizingly lengthy researched post, I will just say that it seems like the North & South discovered the day of remembrance at different times & through different means. What’s important is that it finally became official & officially known as Memorial Day by Federal law in 1967.
The holiday, originally titled Decoration Day, changed to Memorial Day shortly after the American Civil War in 1868. The Grand Army of the Republic (a Union of Veterans) established it as a holiday to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, in honor & remembrance of their service to their country & the people within that they defended with their lives.
On June 28th, 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, moving 4 holidays, including Memorial Day from their original dates to specified Mondays in order to create 3-day holiday weekends. This moved Memorial Day to the last day Monday in May. The law finally tood affect in 1971 and all 50 states adopted the change over the course of the next few years, unofficially marking this day as the beginning of summer.
Time and a lack of empathy caused the meaning of the holiday to morph into what it’s become today: America’s National Start of Summer Day. You cannot blame the next generation for this outrageous faux-pa. It is the parents (probably the ones who did not serve, nor their parents) and the teachers of our children. There are certain things that can be forgiven for not getting enough attention, but this isn’t one of them. We stand on the souls of all the fallen men & women that lost their lives defending and protecting this country. How is this something that gets so easily lost? Maybe I’m a little sensitive because my father was a Veteran and I grew up around the VFW. Google Veteran war stories. Read or watch a few & tell me how easy it would be for you to forget––1st of all––then take it a step further: What if that story came from your father or mother? Makes it a little more memorable, huh?
But the point of my post isn’t to chastise but to educate. If you take away one thing from this post (in addition to the remembrance of Memorial Day) let it be this: The learning process may be solidified by anger, but never empathized. And on that point I do apologize.
Let’s take a look at what the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) & the Sones of Union Veteran of the Civil War (SUVCW) had to say in regards to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 2002 during a Memorial Day Address:
“Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
I love this: “nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” These honorable men used 34 words to perfectly sum up the problem with Memorial Day that took me a reluctant 167 words within which to express. Granted, they had to consider speaking in public and more flies are always attracted with honey, than vinegar, which is why if anyone ever hands me a microphone in regards to this topic please unplug it before they cart me away for public use of profanity.
It’s really that important, folks.
If my tongue-lashing, suggestion of googling war stories and the memorable statement of the VFW & SUVCW aren’t enough to convince you of the gravity of this topic, then imagine yourself as one of those war heroes. Let me be extreme… You lost your arms & legs. You’ve never quite gotten over PTSD and you haven’t slept a night without terrible nightmares of exploding tanks & sterilizing uzis. Now picture yourself as this person, attending a Memorial Day barbecue. You ask the adorable little girl with ketchup all over her face from eating a hotdog what Memorial Day means to her. Anyone wish to place some bets on her response? No? She may not say it is the “beginning of summer” but I can assure you that it won’t be anything close to the truth.
The topic may be tender for young minds but that isn’t an excuse for bad parenting or give-a-shit-less teachers. Please don’t take that as a blanket statement for all teachers. There are a lot of really good teachers out there that really care––just not enough. I can remember the ones in school that really did care. They’re marked by their constant off-topic life lessons. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? Has a teacher ever shared some good life-lesson that had nothing to do with Math or English? Please share the story in the comments below. I’d love to know that you had some good teachers, as well.
The sad fact about my little pretend-story above about a Veteran that lost all his limbs & stays up nights from nightmares and is constantly terrorized by PTSD during the day…is true for many surviving Veterans. Yes…I lied about the extreme part. It’s a reality
THE POSITIONING OF THE FLAG
I know I promised to keep it short and as usual, it isn’t as short as I’d like for your strained eyes, but there’s one thing more (two, actually) I think that is important in order to help everyone remember exactly why we celebrate Memorial Day. One, is the positioning of the American flag across this great country.
On the last day of May (Memorial Day), the flag of the United States of America is quickly raised to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon and is then raised to full-staff for the rest of Memorial Day.
The half-staff position symbolizes that more than a million men & women gave their lives in the line of duty for their country. At noon, the memory of the fallen & the flag are raised by the living, that swear to never allow the sacrifice of the fallen to be in vain and rise up , along with the flag, to continue the fight for freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Congress supported this honorable deed by passing the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking all Americans to stop and remember our fallen & our living at 3:00 PM (local time where ever you are) on Memorial Day for one full minute. It seems like a trivial thing, but this is America. And we don’t need anyone complaining about the length of time. We have enough balderdash about Christmas…opps! I mean The Holiday Season.
Lastly, the other reminder about the definition of Memorial Day & its importance: the Poppy! If you’ve ever wondered why you see Veterans or women from the Ladies Auxiliary taking donations for little imitation poppies, wonder no more, for I am about to ‘splain you, as the Cuban American, Ricky Ricardo ,used to say to his beautiful wife, Lucille Ball.
A Lieutenant Colonel in the 2nd Battle of Ypres named John McCrae wrote a poem in 1915 titled, In Flanders Field. It’s referring to the fields of poppies that grew over the soldier’s graves in Flanders. Three years later in 1918, a YWCA worker named Moina Michael, was inspired by Lieutenant Colonel McCrae’s poem & attended a YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference wearing a dainty silk poppy pinned to her overcoat. She also brought more than two dozen of the poppies and handed them out during the conference. Two more years later in 1920, the National American Legion elected Monina Michael’s silk poppies as their official symbol of remembrance.
So, the next time you see someone wearing those funny little hats, with those funny little medals pinned all over the place, pedaling the poppies, don’t just pass them by. Dig in your purses or pockets, scrounge up that change or get generous & pull out some bills and drop it into the bucket. Wear that poppy proud. Show everyone that you honor & respect those that fought & fight for our freedom.
If you’ve never had the privilege of reading In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, have a look below. It honors both the fallen & living. The poem does such a wonderful job of evoking the juxtaposed feeling of loss and pride that you can almost breathe in the scent of those delicate little poppies, growing proudly among our fallen soldiers. That is the scent of freedom, my friends!
Enjoy your Memorial Day BBQ…just don’t forget to stop for a moment of silence at 3:00 PM, to honor, respect & remember.