Monday, 27 May 2013, the final Monday in May, is Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day”, after the practice of decorating the graves of the dead. It is not Veterans Day on which we honor all veterans, or Armistice Day (for which we remember the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918) or Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) which is the UK equivalent of Armistice Day. Memorial Day is a day in which we recognize those who lost their lives while serving in the military. A veteran, in America, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of “up to and including my life”. Memorial Day honors those who have had that check cashed.
Traditionally, Memorial Day has been celebrated on 30 May, but in 1968 with the passage of “The Uniform Monday Holiday Act”, the observance was changed to the last Monday in May. The “unofficial beginning of Summer”. Another three day weekend. Some people may fly flags (I do) but many have no idea of the significance of the holiday.
Decoration Day is a uniquely American day. It honors the dead, following the conflict in which, by far, the most Americans died, as many as three quarters of a million people, because both sides were Americans. Memorial Day has as much to do with honoring brothers as it does with honoring soldiers. It is the recognition that regardless of which direction your rifle was pointing, we were all fighting for America. In a larger sense, I have seen Memorial Day as a day to honor the fallen on both sides of a conflict. Both were fighting for ideals they believed in.
Memorial Day has been celebrated in many ways, in Charleston SC there was a memorial in 1865, honoring the Union Prisoners of War who had died in that city. This celebration was organized by freed slaves, or “freedmen” as they were called at the time. Southerners celebrating the sacrifices of Northerners.
You may notice my use of the words “people” and “soldiers” as opposed to “men”. While the overwhelming number of those lost are men, it may make the sacrifices of women stand out even more. Men are in some ways expected to put their lives on the line, women who choose to do so are a special kind of special. There is a memorial in Washington DC to the women who died in Vietnam, and by extension to all women who have given their lives. The women who were lost in Vietnam, all nurses, 7 Army, 1 Air Force, are commemorated just off the main Vietnam memorial. The memorial is surrounded by 8 Yellowwood trees. The effect of the falling blossoms is that of tears.
There are many memorials, and many definitions of what “giving one’s life for their country” should mean. To me, it doesn’t matter which uniform you wear, you have written that blank check to your country. You took the risk, in order to defend what you believe in. I respect those I have faced as much as I respect those who stood beside me (and far more than those who sat behind me, in their wood paneled offices). Any who fall have fallen for their country.
When the eleventh day of the eleventh month rolls around, I’ll write about those who lived to tell the tale. On Monday, please step away from your barbeque, or remember when you give prayer, or at least stand up and properly salute when the flag goes by, in honor of those whose cared enough about us to run towards the fighting rather than away from it.