Memorial Day — You’re doing it wrong!
On this Memorial Day, we sit out on our decks and party. Three days we’ve got off from work with burgers on the barbie. But if you take a moment to reflect, away from your party scene, the radio will remind you what this day truly means.
It’s time to save, I said SAVE, on a waterbed! It’s time to buy a great mattress at an even greater price! I’ve got two words for you — It’s “Tire Sale!” We’ve got rock-bottom prices and the time is running out!
You’ve got one full year, that’s right — one full year! No interest! No payments! This could be the Memorial Day Weekend you enjoy for years!
Oh, yeah, and something about guys who died for our country….. (“Memorial Day” parody by Heywood Banks)
Sadly, that song which was written as a joke to show just how out-of-touch we are with what Memorial Day really means is truer than you think.
I’ve seen and heard lots of people talking about their holiday weekend. The “fact” that it’s the first weekend of summer. About how much they’ve enjoyed their mini-family vacations and days spent on the lake or fishing or perfecting their barbeque techniques. I’ve also seen a lot of people posting photos/cartoons and statements thanking veterans for their service.
Memorial Day is not the day we say “thank you” to our veterans. EVERY DAY should be a day we say “thank you” to our veterans. But for those who can’t be bothered to do that every day you see someone in uniform or someone wearing a hat or jacket showing they were one who promised to put their life on the line for our country, then at least say “thank you” on Veterans’ Day (11 November).
Memorial Day is when we should stop what we’re doing and remember that it’s the day set aside to say “thank you” to those veterans we CAN’T thank in person anymore. They gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields, wherever they were. And we remember those veterans who have passed-on and the service they so proudly gave to our country.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was started by Major General John A. Logan from Southern Illinois and the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was an organization of Union veterans. Three years after the Civil War, in 1868, he said that on May 30th all the graves of our war dead should be decorated with flowers (which would be in bloom across the country at that time). In his orders, he stated:
We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
This was done because in many areas immediately following the Civil War, only those of either Union or Confederate forces were being remembered and the graves of the “enemy” were falling into neglect. One of the first records of equal decorations came in 1866 when women visiting the sites of the Confederate dead from the Battle of Shiloh near Columbus, Mississippi, noticed the graves of Union casualties being ignored and desecrated because they were they “enemy.” Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the ladies placed flowers there as well.
Many Union or Confederate Decoration Day ceremonies are still held every year. Memorial Day, however, was made a Federal holiday by an act of Congress in 1971 and the last Monday in May was selected as the date in order to be fairly consistent with the orders given by Maj. Gen. Logan as well as coinciding with the local/regional celebrations that had been occurring since.
Every grave in every national cemetery will have an American flag placed upon it today. Some are placed by soldiers, some by civic groups such as the Boy and Girl Scouts. Many family members will also decorate the graves of their loved ones in national, state, and private cemeteries. Speeches will be made and politicians will “pay tribute” across the country today. But it shouldn’t be just them making an effort. And it shouldn’t be just the veterans who were able to come home to their country and families and who live with the memories of how their comrades gave the ultimate sacrifice. It should be all of us — every single person who enjoys the freedom for which those brave men and women laid-down their lives.
It’s not about the sales; it’s not about the picnics; it’s not about a day off with or without pay. It’s about gratitude; it’s about honor; it’s about those we can never say “thank you” personally to again.