On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan issued General Order No. 11 that said:
The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
That is the officially recognized birth of what used to be called, Decoration Day. After World War I, all war veterans were included in the remembrances. In 1971, Congress officially declared that the last Monday in May would be a National holiday, on which we were to honor all of America’s veterans who have past on.
Today, purists complain that Memorial Day should be returned to the 30th of May. They feel that it has been transformed into nothing more than a three-day weekend, rather than the day of ceremony and celebration that it once was. Communities no longer have parades and ceremonies as they once did. They also point out that the day was designated specifically to recognize America’s war veterans who have died, no all loved ones who have passed as well.
I’m not sure what to think about that controversy. I can see that society has moved away from the original intent of the day, but for that matter, many in society have a difficult time honoring those in our armed forces who are fighting at this very moment. I’m not sure they would give a hoot regardless. In fact, if the three-day weekend disappeared, I fear that for many the day would become as innocuous as Columbus Day or President’s Day.
At least the way it is, Memorial Day marks a particular place on the calendar where the Nation pauses. The name of the holiday cannot be uttered without conjuring up thoughts of the departed. And that gives all of us who care, the opportunity to show the rest of America what it is we are remembering. We can only hope that the media accurately describes the meaning of Memorial Day.
Does it hurt to remember other, non-veteran loved ones on Memorial Day? I personally believe that it is good to do so. What better way to connect with families of veterans who have passed, than to look to our own losses. As we do so, we can still recognize why this day has been established.
Fewer and fewer families are going to have veterans, thank God. The massive involvement of the last World War seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps, by encouraging people to remember their loved ones, veterans or not, Memorial Day’s history and significance shall continue to be remembered as well.
Copyright ©2005, Phil Harris – All Rights Reserved