I have written about most major holidays in my blog. Some I have done extensively, some less so. This will be more of a ‘less so’. It is not that there is less importance, there is simply less history to the origin of the day.
Memorial Day is a Federal Holiday marking those who have died serving in the Military. The holiday started in 1868 as Decoration Day. The intention then was to honor those who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves.
The date was chosen as the last Monday in May likely due to the availability of flowers throughout the nation at that time. In 1971 the holiday became official in the eyes of the federal government.
There is a significant difference in Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Veterans Day is a day to honor all who have served. Many Veterans do not like personal recognition on Memorial Day, for Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died. There is a big difference in those days.
Memorial Day can be a hard day for many veterans and family of veterans. It can mean many things I cannot begin to fully appreciate. It can be many things in general. But the basic issue often lies in the time frame the day falls into. The day has become the kick off of summer.
Most opinions from those directly connected with the meaning of the day find no flaw in this in general; freedom is what has been fought for. Freedom is to be enjoyed. BBQs and Frisbees and kids in parks IS why wars are fought, to preserve this way of life.
Many would simply ask you to pause. Pause and remember in some way, those whose lives ended in defense of freedom, here or elsewhere. No one who knows me would label me as an ultra patriot. But, I have had many family members serve, from the Revolution, to Korea. One I know of, died in service, but that was WWI and I wont pretend to be directly effected by that loss. I have also had many friends serve. Luckily none died in service.
As a result, I am going to borrow recognition in my own pause as I do every year. I knew a kid while growing up, whose father served. He served in Vietnam and did three tours, completing none as each ended prematurely from being wounded. I knew his father as the guy who learned how to change brake shoes on his Volkswagen Rabbit from me, when I was about 14. I had no idea who he was.
I sometimes wondered what he did as a job since he was retired but still came home sometimes in full dress whites. One day, on short notice, I got to see. I was told my friend’s younger brother was grounded and could not go, so I was asked if I wanted to and see what his father did. I was in. I had to wear my best. We arrived at the Kennedy Center and my friend quickly led me to the “alternate” entrance for those not recognized.
Pointed out to me by my friend, was Admirals, and Generals and high ranking important looking people. An orchestra was playing, people were milling about in formal wear and uniforms and suits and gowns were everywhere. The lights brightened, the music stopped and a large solid voice announced the arrival of my friend’s father.
The Admirals and Generals and everyone in uniform, no matter the branch, stood at attention. In his dress whites, with his left lapel mostly covered in color, he returned each salute in turn, shook the hands of and was greeted by each higher ranking officer. There is much more to this story but as most of you likely can guess, he was not the highest ranking officer in the room. He was however one of the most decorated. Their actions were that of honor, not of rank. Honor.
Remember, this is not the day of honoring those who served, that is Veterans Day. This is a day of pausing to remember those who died in service; the ultimate sacrifice. The reason I tell this story is to set the scene. In this man’s office hung pictures of service buddies and shadow boxes of his awards. The walls in the small office were covered. What meant the most to him is the two American Flags that hung on the wall. Each one in turn draped over the body of first his father, then his brother as they were returned to the deep.
So maybe instead of saying HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY! Remember in your own way, pause, and then live the freedom fought for. So safe Jeeping, happy grilling, wear sunscreen and pass me a rib. If I have a far off look for a minute, I’m remembering my friend’s father and those flags and am thankful for both those sacrifices as well as having so few family and friends who have paid that ultimate price in service.