Memorial Day: Not What It Used To Be
Memorial Day in America has changed through the years.
As I sit here this morning (Monday, May 28, 2012, 7:12am), I think about how and why Memorial Day has changed through the years. It seems to me that, at the ceremonies I have emceed over the past 10 years or so, the majority of people who show up tend to be veterans, current members of the military, and the families of those veterans who have gone before us.
First, a short and very unstructured history of Memorial day:
Now observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day started in a few different places in the country. The first “unofficial” Memorial Day celebration was held by former slaves. It was not this celebration alone that brought us a “National” Memorial Day, but it was the first organized observance in the United States.
Originally called “Decoration Day” (from the practice of decorating tombs of Union soldiers), the holiday quickly grew to be practiced across the United States, and it was a day for families to gather to remember the family members that died for their cause. Many families already had a tradition of gathering to clean up the ‘family plots’ at the cemetery, have a large meal while there, and hold somewhat of a family reunion; with the growing numbers of Civil War dead, it became a time for families (some who traveled great distances) to get together to grieve the loss of their loved one(s).
The original date of May 30 was chosen because it was NOT the anniversary of a battle. It wasn’t until 1967 that a Federal Law changed the name to Memorial Day. The original date of May 30 was changed by Congress to the last Monday of May to make a convenient ‘three-day weekend’, which, in my opinion, was the beginning of the end of Memorial Day as it should be.
As I was researching the history of Memorial Day for this story, my ‘opinion’ about the “beginning of the end of Memorial Day as it should be ” (the changing of the day by Congress) was reconfirmed when I read the following quote, which is from a statement issued by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW):
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.
After Memorial Day fell victim to Congress’ Uniform Holiday Bill, Memorial Day parades began to fall by the wayside. Searching online this morning, I could only find a handful of parades in Louisiana: Toledo Bend, New Orleans, and Shreveport. Lafayette? No parade. Our own state capital, Baton Rouge, is hosting several ceremonies, but no parades.
Baton Rouge hosts a huge country music festival on LSU’s campus; WWE is having a wrestling match at the at the Baton Rouge River Center; Colfax is hosting Mudfest (which includes the Mudfest Amateur Bikini Jello Grappling Contest and “BLOOD!”, a cage-fighting match); Lake Arthur is having their “Regatta”, and of course, if you still get the Sunday Paper, you may have noticed that it was extra-thick with all of the Memorial Day Sale advertisements.
The goal of my story is NOT to stir up feelings of guilt for those who ‘enjoy’ their day; I DO believe that our brothers and sisters who have died for our country would WANT you to have a great day. More than that, they would want you to have a free day. Filled, even overflowing with freedom. Freedom from oppressors; freedom from persecution; freedom from being enslaved. Freedom to gather with friends and family, protected from enemies. That’s why they fought and died for our country, and for us. That’s why our brave men and women continue to put their lives on the line today: to ensure our freedom, our prosperity, our happiness.
Our brothers and sisters didn’t go to war so that we would visit a cemetery or attend a ceremony on Memorial Day; they went to war to ensure your freedom so that you have the right to visit a cemetery or attend a ceremony on Memorial Day. Our freedom has been guaranteed by those fallen heroes; it’s what we do with those freedoms that will decide the future of our country.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead—who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
I hope that more families take time to attend a Memorial Day ceremony or parade this year. It would mean a lot to our country.
Yesterday we had a Richard Family Reunion at Palmetto State Park just south of Abbeville, Louisiana. It was good to see cousins, aunts and uncles that I haven’t seen in a while. I overheard one of my cousins from out of town say “We’re going to stop by the cemetery on the way out of town”. Hearing that did my heart some good.
As we were leaving the reunion, we stopped in Abbeville to put some gas in the Jeep. I heard the unmistakable sound of Chinooks in the distance. I looked up, and here is what I saw:
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I am SO proud to be an American. I know that there are bad apples in every bushel. The United States has done things that still sit as a blemish on our country’s record. Many countries protest our presence when we ‘occupy’ for peace. I know that we, as a country, are not perfect.
Still, today, as I sit here and write this story, I am SO proud to be an American.