I’ve heard various opinions as to the handling of Memorial Day, with each opinion aghast at those who have differing opinions.
Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” when the veterans of the Union Army—now known as the Grand Army of the Republic—decorated the graves of the Union Civil War Dead with flowers as a tribute to their sacrifice. The Union dead enjoyed a more civilized burial in many cases; for example, at Gettysburg, priority was naturally given to those who had given their lives in defense of the United States. Being July, and hot, by the time they had buried the Union casualties, it was not possible to move many of the Southern dead still lying on the field (military, first responders, and medical people know what I’m saying—I’ll save the rest of you from the details). The only option was to dig a proper grave next to the remains, and roll the body in. These were not marked, nor will they be, since they are a prime target for artifact hunters.
Naturally, the veterans and families of Confederate soldiers had similar memorial practices, so as the nation healed, a single day was chosen to honor all who had died in combat—Memorial Day.
To some, saying, “Happy Memorial Day,” is disrespectful, since it is a day to honor the war dead.
So, what should you say?
I gave this a lot of thought and decided on the following:
- Every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guard took the oath and the responsibility in order to protect what we hold dear.
- To honor and remember is appropriate.
- However, those who died did so in order that we could enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Therefore, acknowledging that this nation and even this holiday was built on their commitment as well as their sacrifice, I believe that celebrating acknowledges their victory. They protected our right to be the outrageous, unrefined, out of control Americans we were meant to be.
This is a holiday that was “built on the shoulders of giants.”
So enjoy. What if someone wearing “the cloth of our country” who died in the 1860s, or who is the most recent KIA were suddenly allowed to come back? I think he or she would prefer to see families gather, cook outside, smile and laugh because home and hearth, family and friends, the American way is what they wanted to protect.
Happy Memorial Day to the living, thanks to those who gave the last full measure.