memorial day


In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, designating the last Monday in May as a day to honor the country’s fallen service members. But the holiday originated much earlier in 1868 as Decoration Day, after the American Civil War.

It was then that the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

As a kid, I never experienced the day as something that celebrated our country’s militarism. The women of our family typically visited the graves of several generations of our ancestors to remember them with flowering plants, whether they served in the military or not. I regarded Memorial Day as a time to remember all the dead. I still do.

As a child of the Vietnam era, the idea of “war dead” has lost its patriotic luster. Now I see war as something that is created by cynical politicians, and politicians are not to be trusted. I see soldiers as victims of war.

More significantly for me, Memorial Day marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.



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2 Responses to “memorial day”

  1. 1 Frank Manning
    May 31, 2016 at 3:01 am

    In Coney Island, where I grew up, Memorial Day was the start of the economically vital summer season, which ended with Labor Day weekend. When I was a kid there was a big Memorial Day Parade along Surf Avenue, lots of brass bands and clowns as I recall. There wasn’t too much talk about war dead, despite all the adults being WWII vets, but there was some sort of solemn ceremony about raising the flag from half-staff to full at noon. The Vietnam War gave us war dead from our own generation to memorialize.

  2. 2 matt
    May 31, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Having lived in many military towns across the country and around the world, I’ve always associated the holiday with memorializing the war losses and sacrifices of generations gone by, but to my mother, who grew up near Frank in a non-military family, stories of Memorial Day were about picnics at the cemetery visiting and tending to all of the family’s graves, whether they served or not . . . yeah, and Coney Island too.

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