The Ultimate Sacrifice

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg. Photo by Henryhartley at en.wikipedia Statue: Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg. Photo by Henryhartley at en.wikipedia Statue: Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On May 5, 1868, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans known as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), established Decoration Day. Copying a holiday called Confederate Memorial Day that had been celebrated in the South since 1866, he proclaimed Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. May 30 was set as the date, as flowers would be in bloom all over the country by then.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American Wars, and not just the Civil War.

Although most if not all states celebrated Memorial Day, it didn’t become a national holiday until 1971. The same act of Congress that made it a national holiday also made it the last Monday in May instead of May 30.

Confederate Memorial at the Alabama State Capitol. Photo by User:Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Confederate Memorial at the Alabama State Capitol. Photo by User:Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Many Southern states also have a holiday for honoring the Confederate dead other than Memorial Day.  Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.

With Memorial Day now being the last Monday in May, it seems to be looked at more as the start of summer and a three day weekend instead of what it was supposed to be for; honoring the dead. An old friend of mine has three sons who’ve served in Iraq or Afghanistan; his oldest son, who was wounded in Iraq, puts it better than I ever could:

For most people I know, Memorial Day weekend holds no more significance than just an extra day off to party. If that’s you, I don’t hold it against you because I know that unless you’ve been to war & lost friends in a combat zone, you can’t understand.”

We can do better than this; we can do our best to understand. We can take the time to reflect on what price those brave men and women paid for our benefit.

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This entry was posted in Government, Holidays, Human Spirit, Memorials, Veterans and tagged , on by .

About ew

ew came of age during the winddown to the Vietnam War, and like many other Americans, as soon there wasn’t an issue that didn’t affect him personally, he became indifferent. This gradually changed during the Reagan and Bush I years, continued through the Clinton years and finally came to a head with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. He works as a freelance consultant/tester for various music hardware and software companies, and lives in Minnesota with his cat and other weird and wonderful noise machines.

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