Me, Myself, and the Voices in My Head

A place to ramble and maybe make some sense about a thing or two.

Archive for the tag “honor”

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.

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I have a dream — that today you’ll save money on a new living room set?

What is it with the rampant consumerism that makes everyone believe that any Federal holiday would be the perfect time to have a sale?  Martin Luther King Day (or, specifically this year, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday) was the last Federal holiday to be implemented.  Yes, President George W. Bush issued a “national state of mourning” that has been called “Patriots’ Day” every September since 2001, but it’s not an official holiday.  It wasn’t until 2000 that MLK Day (as it’s often abbreviated) was celebrated by all 50 states, even though the law declaring it an official Federal holiday was passed in 1986.

I remember being in school and not celebrating MLK Day.  It’s not that I didn’t want to, it mostly was because the town in which I lived did not have many black people living there.  Those who did live there sent their children to other school districts.  When I went to elementary school, I was in a different school district where I was the minority and my pasty-white skin tone was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t “from around there.”  So, when just before junior high (or middle school as they refer to it now) my family moved to a new school district, I was absolutely gobsmacked that everyone looked like me.  Well, not exactly like me, but you get the idea.  We were one of the whitest school districts around.  I only knew of one student who was of African-American descent, and she was adopted by a rich caucasian family, so no one looked down upon her.  Otherwise, I couldn’t believe what my new classmates had to say about anyone of a different race.  I remember asking once where the black students were and was laughed at as if my idea of attending school with “them” was in any way appropriate.  I missed my black and white friends from my old school district.  I also made myself a promise that I’d be sure my kids (if I ever had any) would understand that all are equal.  A big step for a fifth-grader.

Eldest Son went to elementary school in a very diverse district where there were many students from many racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.  When a new job forced us to move away into a new area, I felt horrible because we’d moved into one of the most racist counties in our state.  People there bragged about how anyone not “of the correct color” would be run-out of town and how their children weren’t welcome in the school districts.  While we were there, Youngest Son was born and a year later, we moved again.  We moved back to my original “hometown” (I have a hard time claiming just one) where the racial mix was roughly even at that time.  Both boys had friends of many different backgrounds and I was very pleased to see that they didn’t pick up the bad habits of those who, in that very economically and intellectually depressed area, felt the Jim Crow laws should never have been abolished.  It was hard at times trying to make sure that they kept their focus on equality for everyone instead of listening to the majority that steadily grew who didn’t want “those people” in our town.

Now, Eldest Son is in college and making lots of friends with LOTS of different backgrounds.  The town in which we live now isn’t quite as diverse as where we were, but Youngest Son still remembers that he needs to treat everyone equally and his opinion changes only when someone does something against him first.  I’d like to think I’ve done a pretty good job — but my work isn’t over.

So today we’re all sitting at home enjoying some time together because (1) Husband is a Federal employee and all Federal offices are closed, (2) I’m not deployed away from home and even if I was I wouldn’t be working on a Federal holiday, and (3) Youngest Son is out of school because the local school district commemorates MLK Day by closing the third Monday of every January.  And every other commercial on the local channels is about how you can save money on a car or how a store has extended hours just for today’s shopping convenience or even how celebrating this holiday will get you money off your breakfast/lunch/dinner.  Where are the celebrations?  Where are the parades??  A town west of here did have a commemorative march and a multicultural festival (which is a good thing since it is known for a horrible race crime in the early-1900s) to help people learn about the holiday, what it stands for, and why it’s important to remember.

And don’t get me started yet on the rest of the holidays that are treated as this one is.  Actually, many of them are worse!  But never fear, dear readers — as they come up you’ll be sure to get my opinions regarding them.

I sit and realize that the vast majority of students today who are enjoying the day off from school have no idea why the man being honored today has received the honor.  I realize that the same majority don’t even know who he was or why it’s important to remember not just him but the entire movement and all of the historic changes that he, his followers/assistants and his ideas brought to our country.  And just like the rest of the Federal holidays (with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas), they don’t care.  What a sad state of affairs it is.

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