I’ve contemplated writing this post for several years. Each year I sit down to write this post, but thoughts and emotions flow through me and I can never seem to get anything materialized. It seems the day has been long forgotten and been replaced by cook-outs and wishing each service member, past and present, a “happy” day. My husband becomes irritated with the messages he receives from family and friends. Each year he posts a status on his Facebook that reads, “Brace yourselves. Facebook statuses that confuse Memorial Day with Veteran’s Day are coming.” The true meaning of the day has been long forgotten by many.
What is Memorial Day?
My grandparents often referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. Decoration Day began in 1868 by General John Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was the driving force behind General Order No. 11, which states in its entirety (certain areas in bold italics for emphasis):
i. The 30th day 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 church-yard 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.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
ii. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
iii. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General Official: WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.
Logan chose the date for Decoration Day because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. He desired to have a day set aside specifically to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The very first decoration day began with a speech given by General James Garfield from Arlington National cemetery. There, 5,000 people gathered to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers buried in Arlington. Decoration Day was born from the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. History, to remember the fallen. Many question the city and state Decoration Day was founded; however, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the official birthplace of Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in Waterloo, NY.
Decoration Day becomes Memorial Day
As Decoration Day continued to spread as more towns and cities participated in observances, the day eventually became a national holiday. The United States soon found itself in the middle of another major conflict when the world declared war. As the death toll continued to rise from the atrocities of World War 1, Decoration Day evolved to Memorial Day in order to commemorate military who died in all wars. For many years Memorial Day continued to be celebrated on May 30th. However, in 1968, in order to accommodate military personnel with a three-day weekend to participate in observances, Congress passed the Uniformed Military Holiday Act. Memorial Day was officially moved to the last weekend in May. The change officially went into effect in 1971 and declared Memorial Day as an official government holiday.
From The Veterans Administration:
Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.
This brings me to the part I pray all my readers will understand.
I want to share with you some quotes from an article featured in the Washington Post. You can read that entire article HERE.
“I have friends buried in a small corner of a rolling green field just down the road from the Pentagon. They’re permanently assigned to Section 60. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s 14 acres in the southeast corner of Arlington National Cemetery that serves as a burial ground for many military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are fresh graves there. I spent my formative years in combat boots and all of my friends are in the military, were in the military, or married into the military. I have several friends buried at Arlington, and know of dozens more men and women interred in that hallowed ground.”
“How is it then, some century and a half later, after more than a decade of war in two countries that claimed the lives of some6,861Americans, we are collectively more concerned with having a barbecue and going shopping than pausing to appreciate the cost of our freedom to do so?
A friend reminded me that plenty of people use the weekend the way it was designed: to pause and remember the men and women who paid the price of our freedom, and then go on about enjoying those freedoms. But I argue not enough people use it that way. Not enough people pause. Not enough people remember.
I’m frustrated by people all over the country who view the day as anything but a day to remember our WAR DEAD. I hate hearing “Happy Memorial Day.”
It’s not Veterans Day. It’s not military appreciation day. Don’t thank me for my service. Please don’t thank me for my service. It takes the time to pay homage to the men and women who died while wearing the cloth of this nation you’re so freely enjoying today, day.
I’ve attended more than 75 funerals and memorial services since September 11th, 2001. Services for men and women I knew personally, or knew of before they died. Men and women who were friends of my friends. People who’d eaten dinner at my house. Husbands of my friends. Sons of my friends. Brothers of my friends. Sisters of my friends.
Men who served with my friends. Men who died with my friends. Men who were my friends.”
This article continues. I urge you to please read it in its entirety.
Memorial Day is just that – to remember. Instead, many of us generate or find a meme to post on Facebook or Instagram thanking veterans for their service. It’s a day of reflection and we pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms we all appreciate to no end.
Although we appreciate the men and women who sacrificed their lives, there is nothing happy about this day to a combat veteran. My husband often stays off Facebook and Instagram during the days leading up to Memorial Day and sometimes a day or two after. He gets irritated at the constant posts of those confusing Memorial Day with Veterans Day. He’s lost many friends, friends who had families, to war. It’s not a happy day for him or the thousands that have walked this same path.
It’s not because he isn’t appreciative, it’s because it’s not a day to thank him or the many other veterans who served honorably. It’s a day to remember those who never made it back. When he is thanked for his service on Memorial Day, he’s reminded of all those he loved and admired who didn’t make it back.
Memorial Day is a time to pause. It is a time to spend at least some portion of your weekend remembering those who have given and sacrificed so incredibly much. My husband retired from the Army with over 20 years of service on Active Duty. He hates being thanked for his service on Memorial Day. He has performed countless military funerals. He has had to keep his military bearing while fighting back the tears from the dads, moms, wives, husbands, and children to whom he has presented the Stars and Stripes during the ceremonies. When a veteran escorts the remains of his brother or sister’s home, it’s hard to feel a sense of happiness.
Standing in a memorial service while deployed, gazing upon the rows of boots and rifles draped with dog tags, you soon realize there’s nothing happy about Memorial Day. Everyone observes this day in their own way, and those who have held their buddy as he dies in their arms are no different. It seems the phrase “Happy Memorial Day” has become a cliche, just another term to show appreciation for those we know who have served. Please learn the history and stop demeaning this holiday. Read General Order No. 11 again. Remember why this day was commemorated. Remember the sacrifice.
If you live near a National Cemetery, go visit and pay your respects. If you are blessed enough to live near Arlington and Washington DC, there are memorials all weekend long. Teach your kids to remember. If you don’t live near a National Cemetery, I urge you to go to your local one and find the graves of those men or women who gave all. You can even visit the VFW and they can assist you.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Those who fail to learn history, to remember history, are doomed to repeat it.” quote=”Those who fail to learn history, to remember history, are doomed to repeat it.” theme=”style2″]
As for us, each year on Memorial Day my family will be doing Flags in. We have done this everywhere we have lived from Arlington to now here in Tennessee.
What is “Flags In?”
Flags In is an old military tradition. The history at Arlington alone spans back over 60 years. Each year all available Soldiers with the 3rd US Infantry Regiment participate by placing flags at each headstone, exactly one foot in front of the headstone. In approximately 4 hours, over 228,000 flags are placed. In addition to this happening at Arlington, it also occurs at all the National Cemeteries across the United States. Unfortunately, not every headstone receives a flag because of a lack of volunteers. I urge you to get out and honor those who have long been forgotten.
I know that many of you mean well and mean no harm or ill will when posting statuses thanking veterans on Memorial Day. We should always be thankful. That man you just thanked might be flashing back to his battle buddy who didn’t make it back.
As General Order No. 11 states, “let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”Those widows are known as Gold Star Wives.
Also, if you see a penny, nickel, dime, or even a quarter left on a headstone, someone has visited.
Here is a brief description, as explained by my husband:
“It dates back to the Roman Empire but became popularized here in America during the Vietnam War. Service members found it easier to place a coin at the headstone to let family members know they visited rather than contacting the family and get into a discussion about the war. Often those discussions took a turn for the worse, especially during the Vietnam War. Many veterans viewed the coins as a “down payment” for the price of a beer or a hand of poker when they were reunited with their deceased brother or sister. Cemeteries now collect the coins from time to time and use the change to help keep the grounds and help pay for the burial costs of indigent Veterans. Unfortunately, the denomination of the coin has become insignificant because very few people carry loose change with them. More unfortunate than that, very few know of the tradition because it hasn’t been passed down.”
Here is what each denomination of the coins means:
Penny – I don’t know the person but know he or she served in the military.
Nickel – I went through Boot Camp, AIT, or some type of training with him or her.
Dime – I served in the same company, but a different platoon. Or I served in the same battalion, but a different company. Either way, I served in the same outfit.
Quarter – I knew this person. We were either friend or I was there when he/she died.
So, if you see a coin left on a headstone, now you know why it’s there.
Here below are a few of my friend’s husbands who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
SPC Ryan T Baker KIA 11/15/2003
SGT Bryan McCabe KIA 08/11/2013
May we never forget their sacrifice for our freedom.