A three day weekend. An excuse to barbeque. Time with family. An extra day off. These are all Memorial Day means to most Americans. Some take a moment to wonder what the holiday is all about. A few honor those whose memory the day was set aside for. But most just think of Memorial Day as another holiday.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a national day of remembrance for those who died in the service of our nation. It is a day to honor their memories.
While over two dozen cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, it probably had its roots in the many towns and villages where women's groups set aside special days to decorate the graves of those who died during the Civil War. It was officially proclaimed by Army General John Logan on May 5, 1868, and was first observed on May 30 of that year by the placing of flowers on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Memorial Day was recognized by all states by the end of World War I, when the holiday was changed from honoring only the fallen of the Civil War, to honoring Americans who had died fighting in any war. But even though millions of Americans celebrated the day, it was not until 1971 that it was recognized as a national holiday. By an Act of Congress, the last Monday in May was set aside for Memorial Day, ensuring a three day weekend. This was a mistake.
The Veteran's of Foreign Wars stated in 2002, "Changing the date merely to create a three day weekend has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
I'm sure they are correct. Sadly, Memorial Day observances have gradually died away over the years. Cities and towns that held Memorial Day Parades every year for decades have dropped them. Services honoring our war dead at cemeteries, which were once common in every city, town and village, are all but unheard of today.
But there are other reasons for this national ungratefulness besides Congress turning it into just another three day weekend. Schools today generally ignore Memorial Day. When they do teach anything about our veterans, teachers are more likely to dishonor them as "war criminals" rather than to honor them as heroes who gave their all for the freedom of all. This trend stems from the Vietnam War, when liberal activists spat upon returning troops and called them "Baby Killers." Since then many of those same activists have taken over the NEA (the national teachers union), which heavily influenced not only what is taught, but also the politics of school systems all over the nation.
Radical liberal groups like "Code Pink" have also maligned both veterans and the soldiers, sailors and marines who currently serve our nation. Like most such misguided groups, they support special rights for homosexuals, abortion for any reason, "green jobs: and Obama's health and education agendas. But they save their most savage attacks for the men and women who serve our country in the military. Young children (especially those unfortunate enough to have mothers who are part of this hateful organization) cannot help but be influenced when they see this group's anti-American demonstrations.
There are other groups who detract from the sacrifice our military personnel have made over the past two centuries, including many Democrats who claim that their own military service gives them some special right to denigrate those who serve. Self-serving traitors John Murtha and John Kerry spring to mind. Murtha accused US Marines of murdering civilians with no evidence, and before any investigation was made. The Marines were later exonerated, but Murtha never apologized. John Kerry likewise accused US troops of being rapists, baby killers and cowards. His words and those of fellow leftists cost many American lives by encouraging the North Vietnamese Communists into thinking they could win, thus prolonging the conflict.
Due both to ignorance and a general lack of patriotism engendered by the influences described above, America's fallen are increasingly ignored. The liberals who control most of the media mock efforts by the VFW and other patriotic groups to honor those who have given their lives for us. The graves of soldiers, sailors and marines in cemeteries across the nation lie ignored and neglected. Many are covered by weeds or have fallen headstones.
But there are glimmers of hope that a nation which has forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day will repent and once again treat Memorial Day as more than an excuse for a cookout. For over fifty years, in the week before the holiday, the soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry Division have placed American flags on every one of the quarter million graves in Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day for four days to make sure that every flag remains standing until Memorial Day.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in recent years have started placing flags or candles on graves in some military cemeteries. Washington, DC, not generally known for its patriotism, resumed its Memorial Day Parade after six decades. And when I did an Internet search for "Memorial Day Observances" today, I got about 10% more results than I did with the same search a year ago. Granted, most were in small towns or cities with military bases. But it was still good news.
When I was in the Marine Corps the flag was lowered at sundown every day on every base where I served. This was also the tradition on the Air Force bases where I was raised, and I'm sure it is observed in all the other branches of the military. "Taps" was played, and all over the base everyone - both uniformed and civilian - stopped whatever they were doing. If you were driving, you pulled your vehicle over to the side of the road. Everyone faced in the direction of the base flag. Uniformed personnel saluted, and civilians placed their hands over their hearts. This was a small gesture of respect, but an important one.
Thinking about this prompted me to ask America a question. We have so many holidays in this nation on which we can relax, party and pig out. Is it too much to ask that we set aside one day each year to honor the men and women who gave their blood so that we could be free?