Forgetting what Memorial Day means

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I learned that it is not good form to wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”  This is a day to remember service members who have died.  That is not “happy,” though it should make us feel grateful, and gratitude is arguably a part of happiness.

Veterans Day honors everyone who has served in the military.  Memorial Day honors those who have given their lives in that service.

In some regions, such as here in Oklahoma, the custom is to remember all of the dead.  It is sometimes called “Decoration Day” because this is when we decorate the graves of our loved ones with flowers and (for veterans) flags.

But today Memorial Day has become reduced to the kickoff of summer, a three-day weekend, a time for cookouts and good times.  An article excerpted and linked after the jump laments how Americans have tended to forget what Memorial Day means.

While acknowledging the point, I don’t know that we need to make each other feel all guilty over this.  Having a good time with family and friends is one of the benefits of the freedom that those military men and women gave their lives for.

But even as we celebrate, Memorial Day should be a day for memory, for remembering. [Read more…]

“Bring to his work a mighty heart”

In observance of today’s holiday, the Daily Oklahoman printed excerpts of a Memorial Day address by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1889, when the memory of the Civil War was still fresh.  You’ve got to read this speech.  It features an eloquence and a depth of sensibility that we almost never hear today, certainly not from politicians or other public figures.

He talks about the honored dead, of course, but he also makes applications about what the generations that follow can learn from them and from observing Memorial Day.

I give a brief sample after the jump, but please click the link and read the whole thing. [Read more…]

Why Memorial Day?

The difference between Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, we are reminded, is that the former honors the living who served their country in the military, while the latter honors those who died in the line of duty.  And we have lots of people to honor today.  The number of Americans who died for their country is 1.1 million.

Why May 30?  It goes back to the original observances, just after the Civil War, in 1868.  The plan was to decorate the graves of the slain with flowers.  (Here in Oklahoma, we use this day, which some call “Decoration Day” to put flowers on the graves of all of our loved ones who have died.)  On May 30, flowers are in bloom. [Read more…]

“To get to you, they’d have to go past us”

Most military recruiting ads lately have had a self-help theme (“be all that you can be”) or have encouraged enlistment for all of the job training you would get. But this ad, shown after the jump, invokes the purpose of military service. And it reminds us why we should all be grateful for those in military vocations–particularly those who laid down their lives for their neighbors–on this Memorial Day. [Read more…]

The original Memorial Day order

MEMORIAL DAY ORDER*

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic,

Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868.

GENERAL ORDERS

No. 11

I. The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? [Read more…]

Putting flowers on graves

Many of us will observe Memorial Day by putting flowers on the graves of loved ones.  This custom seems almost universal.  In fact, archaeologists studying the burial site of a stone-age woman have found that the cave dwellers put flowers on her grave.

It’s a beautiful, touching custom.  It feels deeply meaningful, but what does it mean?  Why do you think people do this? [Read more…]