Today is Memorial Day.
Like so many things in American history, it is an amalgam of twisty-turny passages that manage to come out as a single observance. The short version is this: the day was originally called Decoration Day and it was created in 1862 to decorate the graves of the glorious Confederate dead. Not to be outdone by their southern sisters, the ladies of Boalsburg, PA decorated the graves of the Union dead on July 4th, 1864 at the dedication of a war cemetery. The first recorded event called a memorial day happened in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1st, 1865. According to that source of all things confirmable, Wikipedia:
During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.
Memorial day as a name started coming into vogue around 1882 but the day of observance did not officially become Memorial Day until 1967 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act….and we all know what that means. Oddly, my office gets a day off on
the Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving as Federal holidays, but not President’s Day in February. I don’t understand that one. But we have regular hours on President’s Day even though it’s one of the Uniform Monday Holiday days….as is Martin Luther King Day in January, but hey! I’m just a trench monkey and no one is paying me to understand this stuff.
What I do understand is that Siegfrieds have fought in every US war since the Revolution. Three of the four grandparents in this family served in uniform during World War II…the fourth worked as a civilian at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But they all came home. As a kid, I remember Grandma Bessie telling me how lucky we were that my dad came home, as did her sons, my Uncle Dave and Uncle Herbie (with shrapnel in his leg), as had my Uncle Lenny on dad’s side. And the 5 Siegfried boys, along with Grandma Marilyn and step-grandma Helen (Siegfried) also served…and by the grace of G-d, came home.
The country was at war and they all went to do their part. No one wanted to go. No one said, “Yeah, let’s go invade some country just for the hell of it.” But they went anyway. They knew that the minute they put on that uniform they were laying their lives on the line. There were no guarantees they would return, no thoughts about benefits, home loans, or tuition coverage…they just went. It was what was expected and what they did.
And every one of them lost buddies along the way. Sometimes they saw it happen, other times they just heard about it. No one thought of it as a life wasted; this was a life sacrificed in the line of duty to protect others.
It wasn’t quite the same after Vietnam, a war so unpopular that soldiers were reviled by the public even though they were putting on that same uniform and being sent into harm’s way by the same government. We learned a lot from that war….including how not to treat the ones who returned, and after far too long, how to honor the ones that died fighting for something that would be lost anyway.
The drums beat once more after September 11th, but the wars that followed came to symbolize not America’s status in the world, but rather a questionable attack for reasons that make no sense even now. Iraq was based on a lie. This was Pizarro in Peru all over again. We came, we destroyed, we left a country in tatters, and there is not a reason in the world that can justify what happened in Iraq. The day will come when someone will demand reparations….and in that suit should be the families of those soldiers who marched into the abyss on orders of a President who cared not one whit about what happened to them.
Afghanistan was at least involved in September 11th, and gave succor to Osama bin Laden and his tribe of terrorists. But that country’s long history of invaders being defeated should’ve been a giant clue not to park there….but to get bin Laden and get out. Again, our guys marched into the fray believing they were doing what was right… but only because they were sold a bill of bogus goods by a President who not only didn’t care, but did not think enough of them to actually fund this war.
But those soldiers went and fought and died. We cannot turn away from the sacrifices they and their families made believing this was for the good of this country. They died wearing the uniform of the United States of America and if we cannot pause in our consumer-driven-over-eating lives to give them at the very least the moment of silent remembrance they have earned, then we do not deserve to fly the same flag they flew over their bases over our sheltered lives.
The Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Weel
Thursday is the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks
This is not insignificant…it’s the end of both Byzantium and the Middle Ages.
561 years later Constantinople still has not fully recovered.
An appropriate observance includes angel food cake with chocolate icing.
Candles are optional.