Memorial Day isn’t what it used to be. I should know. I was born on Memorial Day. The real Memorial Day. And I’ve seen the changes.
Originally the day was called Decoration Day. So named because it was a day when the graves of the war dead would be decorated with flowers. Later renamed Memorial Day, it was, from the beginning, a somber day reserved for remembering those military members who died while serving their country. There is some debate as to when and where the first Memorial Day occurred but it was either during or shortly after the Civil War and was intended to commemorate those who died during that conflict. It was in 1868 that May 30 was first used to commemorate the day because that date had no connection to any specific battle, and because that was the optimum date for flowers to be blooming. At least according to the White House.
And so, year after year the day was celebrated on May 30. With a growing list of those to be remembered. The Spanish American War. The war to end all wars; World War I. The Second World War. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. More death.
When I was a child my parents would take me to the Memorial Day parade every year. Being a kid, and since it was my birthday, I thought it was all for me! The tanks rumbling down the street. The cars filled with old men in uniforms. Younger men marching. And the bands playing. Hail to the heroes. At least to the survivors. I guess we have to glorify war to entice anyone to go willingly into the carnage.
Then one year they changed the day that Memorial Day would be celebrated. Move it to the last Monday in May. Three day weekend! Whoohoo! And that’s when it changed.
Today Memorial Day is much more about cookouts and a day off from work. So many of those who gave their lives lived and died so long ago. We fought a war with Spain? When was WWI again? Afghanistan is soooo far away. Give me another burger and beer!
Being born on Memorial Day has had a profound effect on my life. More than thinking the parades were for me. I went to serve, even though I didn’t have to. Post Vietnam and the draft. Yes, I love the pomp and ceremony. Flags waving. Sharp uniforms. Bands playing. But there is a gritty side to service too. And it includes death for some.
Since 9/11 veterans have garnered a little more respect. There may even be a Memorial Day remembrance ceremony in your town. The front page of today’s local newspaper had a list of all those killed in the last one hundred years of American wars. A long list for a small community.
Maybe beinig born on Memorial Day has given me some special insight. We honor those who have died in wars fought throughout our country’s history. Died in order that today’s American can have a cookout on this day. To preserve the American way of life. But not to be forgotten. Not to have died in vain. And hopefully not to see the list grow further through the ages.
That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com