What are your plans this Memorial Day weekend? Common answers likely include a barbecue, house cleaning, a short trip, or, of course, a hunt for good discounts on just about everything. Very few of us will be decorating the graves of our honored dead. What has befallen Memorial Day is a national travesty.
On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, promulgated General Order No. 11, which was the first official promulgation of Memorial Day. General Order No. 11 provided that flowers be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers on May 30, 1868. Logan's Order declared: "Let no 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." Truly.
In his The Destiny of America Memorial Day speech in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge remarked, “Our country . . . has not decreed this memorial season as an honor to war, with its terrible waste and attendant train of suffering and hardship . . . Yet war is not the worse of evils, and these days have been set apart to do honor to all those, now gone, who made the cause of America their supreme choice. Some fell with the words of Patrick Henry, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ almost ringing in their ears.”
Coolidge explained that “It is the spirit of these men, exhibited in all our wars, to the spirit that places the devotion to freedom and truth above the devotion to life, that the nation pays its ever enduring mark of reverence and respect. . . . That spirit is not dead, it is the most vital thing in America. It does not flow from any act of government. It is the spirit of the people themselves.” Indeed.
In his order, Logan reflected he hoped the Memorial Day would become an annual tradition, and it has. With World War I, that tradition expanded to include all war dead; eventually it became a recognized holiday celebrated each May 30.
Unfortunately, the “ravages of time” have yielded not only neglect, but near amnesia. In 1971, the fatal error occurred - the Uniform Monday Holiday Act fixed the celebration of Memorial Day to the last Monday of May. Congress, bungling its own creation, corrupted it with a three day weekend. The “most sacred day of the year” was perverted into an empty excuse for barbecues, sales, and mini-vacations.
We can do better. This Memorial Day, consider attending a local parade or Memorial Day ceremony. For example, at 11:00 am on Memorial Day, the White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetary in Troy, Michigan will be commemorating America’s Polar Bear Expedition Forces from the WWI era. The mostly Michigan based Polar Bears were sent against the Red Army in brutal northern Russia. For more information about the ceremony, visit www.whitechapelcemetary.com.
Still, to hope that Memorial Day will ever entirely recover its original meaning for most is a hopeless cause - the commercialization and habits of generations have undermined it too much. That is why my then 10 year old daughter Leah and I created Patriot Wee