I confess. I wasn’t thinking about Memorial Day as anything other than a holiday. I was busy with a house remodeling problem. I had a deadline for a company project. I was thinking about what to wear to a Memorial Day party.
And then Ray reminded me. As a Vietnam veteran, he never forgets what Memorial Day means. It doesn’t mean parties, rug sales, outdoor barbeques, baseball games or the opening of swimming pools. It isn’t even a holiday to thank veterans for their service (that’s Veteran’s Day). In fact, it’s not a “happy” day at all. It’s a day to honor those who died in our country’s many wars. It is a day of memorial and remembrance.
I know that I’m not the only one who wasn’t thinking about it that way. In fact, I think it might be the most misunderstood “holiday” of all.
I looked it up. I learned that the first official Memorial Day observance was May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. I learned that until 1971, Memorial Day was observed on May 30. Then, the National Holiday Act of 1971 was passed and Memorial Day began to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.
I learned that the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) believes that the change of date that created a three day weekend has “undermined the very meaning of the day” and has contributed to the “public’s nonchalant observance” of Memorial Day.
I realized as I thought about my own nonchalance that I have been very, very lucky. I have never been directly touched by death from a war. My father and uncles were in the service at the end of WW2 … no action for any of them. Even though my college years of 1968 to 1972 were key Vietnam era years, no friend, boyfriend or classmate was killed in action. In fact, few of them even went to war. My brother and cousins were too young. And, I didn’t have sons who could be sent to Desert Storm or subsequent wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.
I’m glad that Ray reminded me about the day’s meaning. It’s unlikely that families of men and women who have been killed in war – or veterans who came back when others didn’t — wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day” or spend it shopping for bargains.
May 28, 2013