Sunday, May 29, 2011

What happened to the real meaning of Memorial Day?


By Dave Stancliff/For The Times-Standard

Posted: 05/29/2011 02:30:30 AM PDT

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Today, I'd like to talk about how it has been transformed into something else, and what it means to most Americans.

Barbecues and beer. Getting into vehicles and traveling for fun. A three-day weekend. A time to go to the beach and burn ourselves to a crisp. A day off from school. A break in the work week. All of these activities and more go through the average American's head regarding a holiday originally designed to mourn our military dead.

What a bizarre twist for Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day. Once it was a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation's service. Now it's a time to hope that gas prices don't get too high for travel.


While Waterloo, New York, was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove the origins of the day. Historians think the day had many separate beginnings as towns held spontaneous gatherings to honor the Civil War dead in the 1860s.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on May 30, 1868. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

It's not important what was the very first town to honor the war dead. It is important that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Were you aware of this history? Are your children aware of thisimagesCAC6FANN history? Did you know the first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873? By 1890 it was recognized by all the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring those who died in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in all of our wars.

Traditional observance of Memorial Day has faded over the years. Many Americans have forgotten its meaning and traditions. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember to fly the flag at half-staff for the day.

While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, not just those fallen in service to our country.

What happened? How did this day turn into a free-for-all, three-day vacation? Many feel when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day.

As the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”


To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December 2000, which asks that at 3 p.m. local time all Americans: “Voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.”

What we need is a full return to the original day of observance. On Jan. 19, 1999, Sen. Inouye introduced bill S 189 which proposed to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day to May 30th instead of “the last Monday in May.” To date, there have been no further developments on the bill. Go to if you think that we should restore the traditional day of observance.

Meanwhile, if someone wants to start a new three-day holiday at the end of May, I say go for it. Call it “Barbecue Day and Travel Too,” a day of escape from drudgery.

As It Stands, the true meaning of Memorial Day is rapidly becoming a trivia question!


Jendocino said...

What a lovely, informative post. Happy Memorial Day, Dave. Thank you so much for your service.

PS: I loved the otters holding hands, too, but you already had four comments on that one, so...


Make Money For Free said...

What a wonderful tribute to all our fallen and serving military. Have a wonderful Memorial Day as we all stop to honor the men and women who protect us.

Perfect Poker Profit Pointers said...

Support the troops. Support peace. Support truth. Support justice. You can't support the troops by supporting our present foreign policy of imperialism, deception, conquer and conquest. Imperialism robs a nation of money, blood, and SOUL. Support our troops / risk your life, your reputation your cushy governmental and military jobs and support peace and ending the wars.

serenity said...

The reason why people are not using Memorial Day to "honor those that died in war" is we are waking up as a nation and realizing those women and men are not "fighting for our nation" nor do they "die for our nation". The war hero oxymoron has died itself. We are bringing our kids (sons and daughters alike) to have stronger human morals, to understand that violence of war is wrong, that there are more positive ways to serve our nation. The original intent of Memorial Day was to prevent futher wars from enlightening people of the human costs, and to instill peace. We have turned it around as a nation and now spend more than half the world combined on designing instruments of killing people, and war. The Pentagon spinning it with "fighting for our security and freedom" what an example to set for our next generation. the "war on terrorism" has resulted in the loss of more liberties of the American people than any other time in our history. God Bless America, Patriotism means peace, not extolling 'virtue" os our wars

ImBlogCrazy said...

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