By Ken DeLaat
It was called Decoration Day when I was a kid. It was called Decoration Day and it was always on May 30th.
For 45 years now, or since the Uniform Holiday Act was put into place, it has fallen on the last Monday of the month. It was part of the deal that created more 3 day weekends as Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day were moved from their original dates.
The veteran groups raised a bit of fuss over Armistice/Veteran’s Day being so offhandedly relocated from the traditional date (Apparently Congress had failed to recognize the will of the people on this one. Go figure) and so after what must have been extensive deliberation since it took three years, it was switched back to the original date. The other two, as well as Columbus Day, adhered to the Act and have been rather mobile ever since.
Of course, unlike the Vet’s, George and Chris weren’t around to raise any objections so nothing else has changed since. Oh yeah, that was also when our ever-on-the-lookout-for-vital-legislation politicians of the day decided to make Columbus Day an official National Holiday. I’m sure you remember old Chris from history, right? You know, the Italian guy backed by Spanish money who stumbled into the...
...Western Hemisphere while looking for somewhere else and began a tsunami of greed-driven brutality that brought untold misfortunes to the people who had inhabited the continents of that part of the world for eons?
Yeah, that guy. We honor him because….uh….because….
Well, I suppose because of all the appliance sales his day has made available to us unless you work at a place that recognizes fed holidays then I guess he’s honored for the extra day off. It bridges the September to November holiday gap, though my October holiday will forever be Halloween which in my opinion would make an outstanding federal holiday replacement for C-Day and eradicate the old costume/no costume workplace dilemma some struggle with.
But I digress.
The Civil War (always intrigued by the word civil attributed to any war) resulted in a staggering amount of lives lost to the populace of our pubescent nation. If an identical percentage of today’s inhabitants were to similarly perish in war it would mean the loss of over 6,000,000 Americans. Little wonder the need for national cemeteries grew out of the conflict and marked the beginnings of the holiday aimed at honoring those who went to war and never returned.
The holiday evolved from an unofficial scattering of observances of one type or another soon after the war, mostly involving the decorating of cemeteries, into a more or less official observance. For obvious reasons different sections of the country held them on different days prior to it becoming a federal holiday when it they more or less merged.
After the First World War it became a day to honor the fallen from all wars as it has remained, albeit with a kind of floating date attached to it.
We display our flags and bunting, ensure the gravestones are given a bit of a brush-up, perhaps catch a parade and/or ceremony to give our thanks for those who made that ultimate sacrifice. During an observance words are spoken, prayers are given, silent moments are shared, and it all ends with the playing of ‘Taps’. It’s how we express our appreciation for the sacrifices made.
My late father was a World War II Purple Heart veteran and one of the soldiers who were involved in what he once called his, “All expense-paid walking tour of Western Europe” in the slightly sarcastic tone we all loved.
That was the longest statement I believe I ever heard him make about his wartime experience. When I was quite young I asked him about it once or twice and I recall kind of a mumbled answer here or there but it became pretty clear pretty early that the subject wasn’t to be broached.
I knew whatever he had seen and experienced, he would be spending the rest of his life trying not to think about it again. It profoundly affected him, I have no doubt, but he was one of the fortunate ones who made it back. Changed perhaps, and forever filled with unwanted memories but he came back to my Mother and my brothers and his extended family and later on he was here to have a hand in creating my sister and myself.
He came back.
Memorial Day is for all those who never got the chance to come back. Those who would never have more children, never attend another family reunion and never go fishing at a rented cottage on Decoration Day.
And while the ceremonies observances and events surrounding the day do well to honor those fallen heroes from every era they fall far short of coming even close to matching the priceless gift their sacrifices have bestowed upon our most grateful country.
"It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle."- Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
(Ed. note: This column first appeared last year in our pages.)
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