In 1868 General John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that Decoration Day be celebrated nationwide. The GAR, an organization of Northern Civil War veterans, promoted the holiday (built around celebrations at Civil War cemetaries and supported by the Women’s Relief Corps.) By 1890 the event was a state holiday in every Northern state, celebrated on May 30 (a date chosen because it was not the date of a battle.) Southerners, being made of the same good stuff as there Northern brethren, followed a similar path.
In 1913, North and South gathered at Gettysburg to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the terrible affair. Though it would be another 54 years before Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday, its place in America’s life was secured on that occasion. The holiday began as a way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice; for a nation or a lost cause. The holiday continues to signify that wars may be unjust, ill-considered, or tragic in their necessity; but that the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families are always acts of heroism. Over our long history of good deeds and questionable motives, noble ideals and hypocritical execution, compassion and indifference, almost 3 million Americans have sanctified our decisions with injury and death.
Some jaded souls have seen this day as an opportunity for political gain, but Memorial Day remains gloriously apolitical. We can all of us appreciate the efforts, hardships, and heartache that form the whole of military service. We can all of us stand humbled by the sight of rows and ranks of military graves. We can all of us be touched by the single tear that falls from the eye of a warrior remembering a fallen friend; it looks remarkably similar to me, whether that friend was lost last year in Afghanistan or 56 years ago on Iwo Jima.
I have heard some decry Memorial Day’s evolution into one of hot dogs, baseball, car racing, and family fun. Those warriors I have been privileged enough to speak with on the matter think the notion ridiculous. What better way to celebrate and acknowledge the sacrifices that made, and make, such glimmering examples of Americana possible? Just find a moment, my friends tell me, and let them know you understand the reason for the Holiday.
The Rational Middle says Thank You, and bids the fallen peace…