Like most of you, I will enjoy a “family day” and eat too much. We have a grandson now and this is also the first holiday that I won’t have my parents around. My mom died in mid-May and my father back in 2015. Our routine is to turn on the grill and eat some burgers. Often, I watch those military documentaries or a good war movie. A few years ago, we watched the series “John Adams.”
My parents always told us family stories. They would say something in Spanish that loosely translates to remember where you came from and who you are. We heard about our ancestors and how they got to Cuba.
On this Memorial Day holiday, the U.S. could use a lesson from my parents because there are too many people around who want us to forget our history or devalue its importance. Sadly, they want us to hate the country rather than love its unique history. So let’s remember why we take a day off today.
My guess is that all countries have one day to remember those who have paid the ultimate price, as President Lincoln said. In the U.S., we call it Memorial Day and it has a long history.
Let’s start with the Civil War (1861-65) and “Decoration Day“:
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.
The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Later, it became Memorial Day after World War I and World War II:
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
Looking back today and reading about Decoration Day, I am amazed how our ancestors were willing to decorate the graves of northern and southern soldiers. It’s a good lesson for those who want to remove statues. Sometimes the best way to heal is to honor the dead rather than selectively remove them from history.
Remember what Memorial Day is about. It’s the best way to honor their sacrifice.
P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk).