Many people confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We remember, or memorialize, our veterans who are no longer with us on Memorial Day. We remember our Veterans who are still with us on Veterans Day. The understanding of Veterans Day and Memorial Day is knowing the difference between the living and the dead.
History has afforded many monuments to those who died in combat. One of the courses I took at the Naval War College required us to read The History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides. It was a difficult read and I had to write a paper about it prior to attending the class.
Pericles, an Athenian statesman, gave a famous speech at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War honoring those who died. Anniversaries of this funeral oration became commonplace to honor those who continued to die defending their country.
We know it today as Memorial Day in the United States. It started (maybe the first) occasion to honor the deceased was May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina. Shortly after the Civil Way, freed slaves, members of the United States Colored Troop, and locals memorialized the Union troops who died in prison at a racetrack. Prison conditions were horrific, and many died of abusive conditions on confinement. The dead were honored with song and flowers. An archway over the cemetery was engraved with, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
A few years after the Civil War, many cities hosted memorial celebrations to the fallen soldiers with songs, flowers, and flags. It became known as Decoration Day. Union General John A. Logan led a charge to have an official day to remember all the veterans who died in the United States. This was the end of May 1868. It was an arbitrary day, not one to remember a victory or battle.
There were still differences between the North and the South after the Civil Way. The South wanted a different day to honor their deceased veterans – not the same day that was honoring the deceased Northern troops. It was not until after World War I that a combined North/South (all fallen troops from all wars) was initiated. Today, several southern states remember their Confederate War veterans on an official day in their states not coinciding with our National Memorial Day.
It was not until after World War II that Congress passed a resolution to observe Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act established the last day in May as the official date of Memorial Day. It did not become a federal holiday until 1971.
In 2000, Americans were asked to pause and observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. locally across the United States. Amtrak, Major League Baseball, and NASCAR uphold this tradition. Some cities have parades to honor our fallen military members.
The United States flag is directed to be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels. Citizens are asked to display the United States flag at half-staff from their homes before noon also.
Over 80% of Americans believe it is important to remember our deceased veterans. Few know that it is celebrated on the last Monday of May. Not quite half of our citizens know the true meaning of Memorial Day. They think it applies to those veterans who died in uniform defending our country.
A quarter of Americans think Memorial Day is to celebrate only those who served in the armed services. A third of our citizens confuse the two national holidays, Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Regardless, nearly 90% believe we should be doing more to honor both the living and deceased members of our military.
We can fly a flag, leave a flag/flowers on a gravestone, visit a military monument, and more to remember our military members no longer with us. It is not proper to wish a veteran a “Happy Memorial Day!” It is not a ‘happy’ occasion. It is a solemn memory. It would be like saying “Happy Funeral!” But many will say it anyway.
It is also not appropriate to tell a veteran “Thanks for your service” on Veterans Day because that statement is honoring the living person you are talking to and not the memory of our fallen soldiers. Some gave all their lives to defend our country (Memorial Day). Others gave some part of their lives to protect our country (Veterans Day).
What is appropriate to say to friends and families? It might be something along the lines of “Enjoy your weekend, I know that we are honoring our deceased military.” Or, maybe, “Have a great weekend, I am thinking about our veterans who aren’t with us as we remember them.”
Regardless of what you say, say it with honor and dignity.
Live Longer & Enjoy Life! – Red O’Laughlin – https://RedOLaughin.com