Our View: Memorial Day — Lest we forgetAmericans tend to make some peculiar associations with national holidays.
Americans tend to make some peculiar associations with national holidays.
For example, take Presidents Day. First off, it celebrates the separate birthdates of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln by lumping them together on a day that fits neither president’s birthday precisely. To make things worse, the date is reduced to an occasion for putting mattresses on sale.
Likewise, the Fourth of July is viewed by many as a holiday created to pay homage to fireworks, picnics, beer-drinking and boating. Its significance marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence is generally lost in the rush to the beach.
Memorial Day is no different. Judging by how it is traditionally observed, one might conclude what it memorializes is its cultural status as “Summer’s First Holiday.”
It is, in fact, intended to be a hallowed time, not merely a recreational one. Perhaps a history lesson is in order.
Memorial Day as we know it originated from “General Order Number 11 of the Grand Army of the Republic,” issued on May 5, 1868 by retired Union General John Logan. What follows are excerpts from Logan’s commandment.
“I issued to our comrades throughout the land the following order: 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 our 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.”
Although Logan’s words were meant for a late-19th century populace, his thoughts seem entirely appropriate for these perilous days of the early 21st century.
Naturally, we don’t expect people to dramatically alter their Memorial Day plans simply because we’ve highlighted Gen. Logan’s remarks.
All we ask is, as you enjoy yourself on Memorial Day, keep in mind the people who gave — and are giving — their lives to protect our freedom. It is through their sacrifices that we gain the unintentional liberty of taking Memorial Day for granted.