Memorial Day

POST 1072

This essay was originally posted on Memorial Day, 2012, with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan and is offered today (with some updating) as a reminder of what this holiday is about. You can also have a look at another Memorial Day post here.

Arlington CemetaryOur War Dead

It was originally called Decoration Day (see below), a formal day of remembrance of the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. The refreshing of their graves was the order of the day and it was later extended to all Civil War dead.  It became known as Memorial Day in 1967 and was declared to be in honor of the American dead from all of our wars. That federal re-naming packaged all of the various honoring ceremonies for our war dead and all the individual traditions practiced around the country into a neater package, something that apparently was important in 1967. In addition, the date of remembrance was shifted from May 30 to the last Monday in May so that there would be a 3-day weekend and time for mattress sales.

We no longer conscript our young into military service and instead rely upon a voluntary corps of warriors, leaving the rest of us to follow the imperative of former President Bush in time of war, that we go shopping. That’s handy, as shopping is more pleasant than thinking about our young crawling through a jungle or a desert and being shot at.

Then we see a soldier in desert fatigues walking through the airport, wearing his boots, the color of desert sand, his camouflage backpack hung from his shoulders, and we know he’s either on his way to or from trouble and war becomes real to us. It’s already quite real to that GI in his desert fatigues.

Study this picture and you’ll understand. Source unknown

Memorial Day is not for that soldier. It is for those who have died. What is poignant is that the soldier in the airport might be one of those whom we remember next year.

Memorial Day is intended to be a somber event, a Decoration Day for refreshing graves. It is not about parades with circus clowns to entertain us or political clowns to promote themselves. It is about the renewal of our individual and collective memory of those who can no longer march, lest we forget them. And it is to honor those who loved them, to understand their pain, even for just a few sacred moments.

Duty, Honor, Country

Go to your local Memorial Day ceremonies today, be they in person or virtual. Remember and honor our fallen ones and say “Thank you.”

Before you go, watch this short video from Adam Kinzinger. I know you’ll understand his message.

In Closing
Decoration Day, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, pub. 1882
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
The Statistics

Today is a good day to be the light

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