Memorial Day been observed in the United States since the Civil War. Though many towns lay claim to its origins (also known as Decorations Day), legend states that Southern women were the first to decorate the graves of loved ones and neighbors in the immediate aftermath of the War Between the States. In 1868, a little noted successor to Ulysses S. Grant as General of the Army of the Potomac, John Logan declared Memorial Day to fall on May 30, 1868.
In 1967, the U.S. Congress made the title “Memorial Day” official on a national level. And just a year later Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved Memorial Day and three other federal holidays to Mondays.
Leave it to Congress to screw up a good idea!
Now before you flip out at me, let me assure you that I too enjoy a long three-day weekend. But in reality, Congress’ admittedly successful attempt to promote domestic spending and increased tourism, also served to distract many – though certainly not all – from the true purpose of setting aside a day to remember all of those who died protecting us, who died for our freedom or the freedom of others, and – as in The Civil War – who died to define what present day America would look like.
“Celebrating” just never sounds like the right word to use in respect to Memorial Day.
Simply thanking a vet – though a worthy act – seems so woefully insufficient when so many never had the opportunity to be thanked for their ultimate sacrifice. So while you are enjoying the sights and sounds that make our country beautiful, as you enjoy the company of family and friends, dwell on the immense sacrifices so many – especially those grievously wounded and those who would never return home – gave to us.
On Friday, May 25 I spent the afternoon cutting the grass.
On that same day in 1862, 2400 Americans died in the First Battle of Winchester, VA. The battle proved to be an important strategic victory for Stonewall Jackson in his Shenandoah Valley campaign. An undersized Union Army forced to flee the town of Winchester, VA, which had been outflanked by Jackson’s defeat of the Union garrison at Front Royal, VA. The battle was one of many smaller conflicts during The Civil War that do not receive the attention of the larger battles from the War Between the States. Regardless of how one feels about the goals and motivations of the Confederacy, one must keep in mind that all who died that day had been Americans, and their sacrifice helped define what the United States of America would become in the decades to follow.
On Saturday, May 26 I dealt with the installation of a new heater and air conditioner; then bought flowers for my annual Memorial Day weekend planting.
On that same day in 1942, Japanese Admiral Nagumo’s 1st Carrier Fleet sailed for Midway Island. His task force contains the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu with two battleships, cruisers and destroyers as escort. The Battle for Midway Island was fought a few days later, from June 4-7. The sea conflict occurred just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when the Japanese were largely unstoppable throughout the Pacific. Three hundred and seven Americans died over those three days (Japanese losses: 3000 men, four aircraft carriers) as the American Pacific Fleet dealt a blow that would in effect end the hegemonic wave from Japan. From that day forward, the tide of war in the Pacific would flow The Allies way.
Tomorrow – Sunday, May 27 – I will enjoy the company of close friends with a generous mix of adult beverages and bad-for-me foods.
On that day in May 1918, the German Army launched a third offensive in a string of World War I battles along the Aisne River. The German attack was an attempt to threaten Paris and represented the first exposure of American ground troops to fighting in World War I. The American forces lost over 2900 men in the Marne Valley during the war, which freed Western Europe from the first attempts of German domination.
On Monday, May 28 I will enjoy the company of family while lying low to enjoy the last day of an extended weekend.
In 1984 on this day Ronald Reagan led a state funeral for an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War at Arlington National Cemetary. In the days before DNA testing, selected remains of unknown American soldiers had been interred in the Tomb of the Unknowns in representation of all those who were lost in respective battles fought by American soldiers. In a twist of DNA advancement, these remains were later identified as those of First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie; and they were returned to his family in St. Louis, unlike so many others who lay here and in foreign lands, never to be reunited with those they left behind.
Thank those veterans this weekend, certainly! But most importantly remember all those who never had the chance to be thanked in person by those who benefitted from their ultimate sacrifice.