MEMORIAL Day is good at multi-tasking. Created as a way to remember those who have fallen in battle, it doubles as the start of the summer beach season and triples as an excuse for myriad sales, some of them running well past the day itself.
More than a century ago, a Civil War veteran complained that a holiday spirit had overridden the original intent as “a day of memory and tears.” And that was well before the advent of three-day weekends and beach season.
Memorial Day has many parents. Almost as long as there have been wars, it is presumed that someone mourned the dead.
Though the Civil War, with more than 600,000 dead on the Union and Confederate sides, was what really kicked it off.
In 1861, at Warrenton, Va., a ceremony was held for the first Confederate soldier to die in battle. Eventually, about 25 places laid claim to birthing Memorial Day, including Richmond. The events often were South-centric. The first Confederate Memorial Day was observed in 1874.
The national remembrance was generally known as Decoration Day until about the end of World War II. In 1971, it became a national holiday. The date moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May to accommodate the aforementioned three-day weekend.
It says something about the public’s view toward the day that 20 years ago, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. The act asked Americans to stop and remember the fallen for one minute at 3 p.m. on the holiday. The remembrance was no doubt designed to be short enough to keep the beer from getting warm.
Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day, which honors all who served in the military. The former remembers those who gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”
On a Memorial Day, when much of the holiday aspect is being held hostage by the COPID-19 pandemic, laying some poppies on the grave of a fallen hero is not the worst way to spend a day designed for that purpose.
With around 100,000 Americans felled by the strange, quiet war we’re fighting now against an unseen enemy, and with the number climbing daily, maybe we should take more than that one minute at 3 p.m. to remember all those who have risked and lost their lives working for the greater good.
There are many kinds of battlefields.