What you thought it was just a Memorial Day three day sale?
Memorial Day, as by an act of Congress in 1968, is officially on the last Monday in May. That’s what we know, and the three day weekend has become the unofficial start of summer – cookouts, pool parties, auto races, baseball games, road trips. We use the weekend as a springboard to summer baby.
But the day has much more meaning, and history than the casual thank you to members of the armed forces and a backyard game of cornhole.
It was originally called Decoration Day. The history is fairly complex, as it was born out of the ashes of the 1861-65 Civil War, a war which saw the death of 600,000 soldiers, still the greatest bloodletting of American soldiers in history.
In both the north and south, people began, or in some cases carried on, the tradition of decorating the graves of dead soldiers. Official celebrations began to pop up here and there but it was a mostly hodgepodge of local events, called Decoration Day, until 1868, at least in the northern states when an annual Gettysburg memorial set the national tone for the event.
Yet even in the early part of the 20th century people began to complain that the event was drifting from one of remembrance of deceased soldiers to one of revelry and games. The first Indianapolis 500 was even met with resistance over running on the same day and therefore diminishing its importance.
There is nothing wrong, in my mind at least, over what the day, and weekend has become. It is a welcome stress relief from a year a quarter in, a moment to reflect and thank those who serve too.
But let’s not lose sight of the original intent – to remember those who served this country and who’s time has passed. We decorate their graves to remember them. The cornhole can wait.
Attached are a few mementos of Decoration Day and below a history video I found on line.
Happy Decoration everyone. Especially my dad.
I’ll see you tomorrow, flowers in hand.