Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On Memorial Day

The meme on Facebook this weekend is a rant about a phrase.  

"Happy Memorial Day" is offensive, it seems.  It's a time for sadness, not happiness, is the argument. The holiday commemorates those who died; to wish for happiness at such an occasion is inappropriate, at best, downright rude at worst.

Oh, my.  I just don't know where to begin.

After the loss of grandparents and parents and friends old and young, I heard the same advice.  "Remember the good times," I was told.  The prescription for memorializing a death was to bring back the joys we shared.  I was aimed toward happiness by those who loved me.  Can't this be a piece of Happy Memorial Day?

There are those who are making a link to wasted lives in the Arabian peninsula; veterans and survivors and those who claim to speak for them emoting on ISIS and what were we there for, anyway? They are trying to move the meme from memory to memory-with-a-purpose, from the individual to the policy level with nary the blink of an eye.  

Memorial Day as a peace-nik event?  A decade ago, I would have said Only in Marin; today, it seems to be sweeping the nation.  The loss of previously secured territory is leading to a lot of head scratching on the airwaves and the editorial pages.  There have always been pacifists at Memorial Day, I know.  I'm just not used to seeing them on CNN.

The times, they are a'changing.

When I was young, more than half a century ago, I marched in the Memorial Day Parade on Decoration Day.  It wasn't all that confusing to have two names for the same day; did you ever try to spell Hanukah in English?  After dealing with that, the United States could call these patriotic celebrations whatever they wanted and I wouldn't complain.

Decoration Day was a day to decorate the graves of fallen servicemen and women.  I didn't have a grave to decorate; nor did any of my friends.  Instead, we put flags on our bicycles and wore red white and blue clothing and tied our pony tails with matching grosgrain ribbon.  We decorated ourselves and thought of those who died to give us the freedom to do so.  

At least, I thought those thoughts. I liked to follow the rules, the world being such an unpredictable and scary place most of the time.  When Mrs. Hosey told us in the second grade that we were to think about the dead at Antietam and Gettysburg as we were enjoying the long weekend, that is exactly what I did.  

I wasn't solemn all weekend, but those dead soldiers were always in the corner of my mind.  I don't think that they have ever really gone away. 

I like the notion of Decoration Day, of doing something beautiful to honor the memory of those who served and died.  

I'll try not to say Happy Memorial Day to a living veteran, because I can see how that might cause some consternation.  

And I'll start to wonder what the interwebs will get excited about next.
FYI, Memorial Day became the official name in 1967.


  1. When I was a girl, Decoration Day just meant decorate the graves. It's the day the family got together and took flowers up to the cemeteries, not just veterans but all who had gone on. I guess it originally was just for military veterans and we are back there.

    1. Our local paper was covered with stories of families and scout troops decorating graves with flags and plastic flowers. THAT is what I remember, too.


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