One day a year America honors its fallen. As a nation, we join together in unity to pay homage to the brave men and women who so selflessly laid down their lives in our defense. Whether they died in a war, a conflict, a skirmish, or from the demons they could not escape once they returned home, matters not. But one has to wonder. Does the civil war count? We certainly weren’t protecting ourselves from any foreign enemy. To the contrary, we were simply settling a domestic quarrel with musket balls and bayonets. We slaughtered 750,000 of our own. Putting this in better perspective, America lost just over 403,000 in WWII. Besides, which side would we honor anyway? The North? The South? Both?
To the naïve among us, America has “always” celebrated the solemness of Memorial Day by firing up their grills, buying mattresses at 25% off, being bamboozled by fake veteran’s discounts on new cars, and spending their long overdue 3-day weekend at some place having to do with lots of water. Many young people, i.e, most millennials, have nary a clue that the last Monday in May did not become an official federal holiday until 1971.
Three years after the Civil War, in 1868, former Union General John A. “Blackjack” Logan, involved heavily in politics, headed up a fraternal order of union civil war veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic. The organization wielded some clout. With the following words Logan officially declared what was then called “Decoration Day”: “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”. Being the forgiving type, Logan included all of the Civil Wars fallen, gray and blue.
The first Decoration Day ceremony was held at Arlington Cemetery where General James Garfield spoke to a crowd of 5000 who then hung wreaths on all 20,000 headstones of the Union and Confederate graves.
As years passed, people around the country continued the honorable tradition by decorating the graves of all our nation’s fallen, regardless the war. So many people were doing this that in 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson changed the name to Memorial Day, and in 1971, Congress established it as a national holiday, making certain it always fell on the last Monday of May, thereby giving all working citizens a three day weekend.
So while you’re paying respect to America’s lost heroes on Memorial Day, don’t forget about the Civil War. Each respective side thought they were doing what was right for America until their arguments finally erupted into pitting brother against brother. You know. Kind of like the direction our country seems to be heading now.