Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

I was disappointed to see one of my favorite musical artists post on Facebook to his almost a quarter of a million "friends" the question of "what is the difference between Memorial and Veterans Days?".

I decided his asking that dumb a question does not negate how great is his music, but I resisted posting that the answer is "GOOGLE DOT COM".

The short answer is that Veterans Day honors our living veterans while Memorial Day recognizes those Americans who died while in military service.

Our Veterans Day, on November 11th, is also still recognized as Armistice Day across the world, as it lands on the day that the Allies signed an armistice with Germany after World War I in 1918. After a public campaign in the fifties to expand the day to celebrate all veterans, including the living, Congress passed a law to that effect in 1954.

Our Memorial Day, on the last Monday of May, was first known as Decoration Day and observed immediately after the Civil War in 1865 by freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina at a mass grave of Union soldiers.

On our Memorial Days, we tend to think first of those soldiers who died during World War II, as it is often called the "good war" and claimed so many lives. Many do not know or forget that more Americans died during our Civil War than both world wars combined.

Back when Presidents were smart enough to write their own speeches, Abraham Lincoln said it possibly as succinctly and well as it ever could be with his Gettysburg Address:


"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863


The contrast between the freed slaves spontaneously honoring those who died in the Civil War with present day popular artists who are unsure what today even means is striking and not just a little shameful.

Whether it is the more than one million Americans who died in all our past wars or the thousands who gave and are still giving "the last full measure of devotion" in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is only fitting for us, at the very least, to honor them this day.


  1. First of all, very well said. I didn't realize the history of Memorial Day went that far back.

    As time goes on, with schools teaching revised history (e.g. Thanksgiving is when the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for feeding them), I believe holiday meanings *do* get lost. Ask most Americans and they'll tell you that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day instead of victory against French invasion in the Battle of Puebla. It's common to hear all Germans were Nazis instead of the fact that Nazi was a political party, like Democrat or Republican. (I'll leave that one alone ~snort~)

    Good lessons to teach our kids.

    PS. I believe The Great War is WWI, not WWII. I'm saying this in 2pt font, just so I can unleash my smarts but not appear too smug about it. Not really. I'm so lying.

    PPS. My word verification, ironically apropos: "gansalis" - Americanized name of Spanish origin 'Gonzales'

  2. PPPS. (I was going to comment that "The Great War" is WWI, but my sis beat me to it. Can you see the geekdom that runs in our family? It was also called "The War To End All Wars". Clearly that worked.)

  3. Good catch, Littlehale sisters. I had meant to write that WWII is referred to as the "Good War".