It’s a pretty vivid memory, getting the shiny red poppies when we went to the city in May. I was very young, and I did not know the money went to helping disabled veterans, and the poppies were to remember the fallen veterans that died in service to our country. I just liked the flowers that lasted a long time even with my intense playing. Later, Memorial Day was for me what it is for many people, the beginning of summer and marked by barbeques and last days of school. Ignorance is bliss.
Later in life, with years of maturing providing insight lost on the young, Memorial Day’s real meaning was made known to me by my father, a WWII veteran. He spoke of his work in the war, but not about fallen comrades, but I’m sure there were many, given the casualties of wartime then. I saw on the news the wreaths being placed on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so somber and militarily precise. The ritual spoke volumes, the words my father never spoke were contained in that moment of honor.
Memorial Day started in the 1800’s after the Civil War in both the Union and Confederate cemeteries. It was first ritualized by freed slaves called Freemen marked the day in Charleston South Carolina on May 1, 1865. Over 200 Union soldiers were buried in unmarked graves, and the Freemen honored them for their sacrifice. Since the casualties were so severe for both sides, cemeteries were memorialized both in the North and in the South by groups such as the Women’s Relief Corps, The Ladies Memorial Association and the United Daughters of the Confederacy brought flowers and flags to the cemeteries that were the resting places of soldiers from both sides. The day went from speeches of outrage at the atrocities the opposing side committed to recognition of the United States place keeping freedom in the world.
Now, I struggle not to be righteous and tell off all the hedonistic secular people frantically shopping for food and drink for the summer commencement parties that Memorial Day is not a happy day. Do not wish me a Happy Memorial Day. Where is the solemnity and respect for the dead? Where is the appreciation for the supreme sacrifice that makes the freedom for the party possible? Is the parade as well attended as the St Patty’s day parade? I want to scream it from the rooftops how wrong this lack of respect is. But I stay silent, anger festering inside me followed by a sense of sorrow. We are so indebted and many do not care.
What I would like to see a return to Memorial Day falling on May 30 every year, and abolishing the three day weekend that has been responsible for the lack of remembrance and solemnity appropriate to the day’s significance. If signaling the beginning of summer is so important, then make an official day to commemorate it by itself. I’m not opposed to a party and to summer; I just don’t want it diminishing Memorial Day.
What do you think about Memorial Day? Do you honor the dead on this day? How?