Pages: 1 2
What, precisely, do we remember on Memorial Day?
We don’t recall that it was observed on May 30 (and not the last Monday of the month) until 1971 or that it was originally called Decoration Day. That holiday’s name described the day’s holy activity, decorating the resting places of men who had paid the ultimate sacrifice to state and nation. And in the process of honoring sacred ground one couldn’t help but reflect upon their service, to memorialize as Decoration Day’s Memorial Day successor calls for in its name.
In the same way that “Decoration Day” conveys something very specific, “Memorial Day” announces its generic blahness. When we hear “Memorial Bridge,” “Memorial Stadium,” or “Memorial Boulevard,” we’re not even likely to wonder, “Memorial to whom?” Memorial Day fits this pattern. The blandness is hardly unique to the holiday more evocative of the Indy 500 than the Union 360,000. Armistice Day becomes Veterans Day. Independence Day becomes the Fourth of July. Washington’s Birthday becomes Presidents Day. Like clichés and euphemisms, the replacement names dull thoughts rather than provoke them. Stripped of meaning, Memorial Day makes us forget what we are remembering.
The Southern ladies and freed slaves who paid tribute to the Civil War’s dead generally did so without any preexisting relationship with the slain soldiers. With hospitals and battlefields far from home, final resting places often were, too. Iraq and Afghanistan aside, the nation’s war dead are now chronologically far from home. That distance won’t stop the grateful few who visit cemeteries today to decorate the graves of veterans they had never met. Memorial Day is about making connections with people with whom one has no direct connection.
The holiday’s date and name have changed. But the spirit of gratitude and respect that motivated the first Memorial Day remains, even if among only a remnant. Traditions are harder to kill then men on the battlefield.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.
Pages: 1 2