Memorial Day. It’s the official start of the summer, isn’t it? For most of us it’s a three-day weekend to have a party and get the yard and garden cleaned up for summer.
You would think so, wouldn’t you, based on your typical neighborhood or the advertisements in the newspaper. But you’d be wrong.
It’s a Federal holiday designated as a remembrance of the men and women who died serving in the Armed Forces.
It’s different from Veteran’s Day which commemorates everyone who served in the military both living and dead. You have to have died in service to be remembered on Memorial Day. I’m sure most people would rather be remembered at Veteran’s Day but so many of our youth were never consulted. They simply received their orders and did what had to be done.
Following the Civil War it was estimated that 600,000 men died on both sides. That’s about 2% of the total population and you might reasonably guess that represented 4% of the men in the US. It’s hard to imagine the cultural shock that represented during that time of tremendous social upheaval.
Shortly after the war, the women of Savannah, Georgia selected a day to lay flowers on the graves of the Confederate dead. This spread across the nation resulting in an additional battle among communities claiming that they were the first and original source of Decoration Day as it was called.
Finally by the 1870s both sides (who were still fighting the war) made enough peace to commemorate the sacrifice of both the Blue and the Gray. Almost a hundred years later Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday act which created a three-day weekend out of Memorial Day.
Never let it be said that politicians can’t find a way to wring more attention to themselves from any remembrance. In 2000 Congress passed a law specifying a pause a 3 o’clock local time to remember the dead. Small wonder Swift in the fourth part of his satire "Gulliver’s Travels" titled “Country of the Houynhnms,” referred to politicians as “running sores.”
Died in the service of our military, that’s a phrase that takes on new meaning today. Many of our veterans die years later as civilians directly related to injuries received in service to our country. I can’t be mean spirited and exclude them, could you? Many of our troops suffer such profound injuries to their bodies, souls and minds, that they return as different people. The original man or woman is dead. They too deserve to be remembered. Still better, they deserve to be assisted, helped to find their place among us.
And even as we remember the honorable dead, we see examples of men who never served but attempt to associate themselves with the actions and valor of both the military living and dead. To dyed-in-the-wool civilians like myself, we can’t tell that Army-issued boots don’t go with Air Force wings and Navy Seal insignias. These people are called poseurs, in polite company. In private they’re called a lot worse. I have nothing but scorn for them. I can only hope the spirits of the dead can look down on them and laugh.
Even as Memorial Day winds down, we should remember it’s not really over. It's never really over. Walking behind us are the shadows of all those men and women who died in service. They wait for their comrades-in-arms to join them as we all must. No man is immortal, but their sacrifice is eternal as long as we, the living, remember them.