It has a lot of meaning to a lot of people. And with most things, it has different meanings for different people.
For some it’s a remembrance and honoring of those who have served our country through military service. If memory serves this began post-Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day. I had a vague recollection that it became an official federal holiday during my lifetime. A little research confirmed this; it occurred in 1971.
For some the weekend is thought of as the official kickoff to summer with camping, picnics and family gatherings. The first Indy 500 race was 1911. Many are buying and planting their flowers and gardens, hoping for a tasty harvest later in the summer.
I went to the cemetery early one morning. I wanted to pay tribute to my husband, a veteran. I also wanted to watch the sun rise and share a private moment before any official celebrations begin.
It gave me a moment to think of my dad, a 20-plus-year Air Force veteran. I remember my childhood as a military brat with our various stations both here and abroad. I recognize that childhood with the military afforded my brother and me the chance to see different places, meet different people and learn independence at an early age. We also learned the value, though that became clearer later, of making our bed, being on time and how to iron military uniforms. I’m thankful for the cleaners today after ironing way too many military shirts for my dad (one of the many chores that was my responsibility).
I remember 1971; the year Memorial Day became an official holiday. I was in high school. The Vietnam War was front and center and something that was brought into our homes with the nightly news. It was discussed in the classroom.
I grew up with the advent of television and war was brought into the living rooms of the masses for the first time. It could not be ignored. It had to be debated. Those years were a watershed moment in America and around the world.
We dealt with the sadness and horror of the King and Kennedy assassinations; the Tet offensive; Kent State; My Lai; ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution; the 1968 Democratic National Convention; the Tate murders; the riots that plagued many parts of the country; establishment of the EPA; opening of Disney World.
We knew the draft numbers of our brothers and our friends who were 18. Every family on the block and in the town knew someone who was drafted or was about to be drafted. It touched us all in a way that bound us together in a way we could not possibly appreciate at the time.
Now, with a volunteer army, our connection to what war actually is has become more nebulous. We still salute the flag and go through the motions of recognizing those who serve with events and commemorations. But I can’t help but feel it’s somehow different today. Most things are.
Memorial Weekend: an opportunity to think about the origins of the day and what it meant then and what it means now.