Remembering on Memorial Day, 2009

I’m not sure how I feel about the phrase, “Happy Memorial Day.” Not in the way it turns your head if someone says Merry Thanksgiving or Happy Christmas; I’m just not sure the day was meant to be focused on happiness. It’s about the rememberance of military personnel who fell in service to their country.

Memorial Day has some of its roots in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1865, in what is today Hampton Park, a group of freed slaves disenterred the bodies of Union soldiers who had been placed in a mass grave. The soldiers were laid to rest individually, and a fence was built around the area, with an entry arch declaring the space a Union graveyard. Three years later, they returned in late May, and decorated the graves with flowers. 

The official birth place of Memorial Day was Waterloo, New York, in 1866. Unlike the Charleston example, the day was recognized anually from the beginning. Originally called Decoration Day, people were encouraged to visit grave sites and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Because the practice began with Union soldiers, Memorial Day was not initially celebrated in some parts of the south. 

Years after World War II, the name was officially changed to Memorial Day (1967). Within a few years, all fifty states officially recognized the holiday we now know today, falling on the last Monday in the month of May. 

As I reflect more, I think the men and women would want to know that you remembered them today, but then they would also want you to go out and have a good day. A happy day, even. What, after all, were they fighting for?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

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