In the United States, we will be observing a holiday known as Memorial Day on Monday, May 28. Later this year, in November, we will observe another called Veterans Day. While both are national holidays, many Americans remain confused about the difference between the two.
Memorial Day is an occasion for remembering and honoring those Americans who served in the military and died in the service of the United States, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.
By contrast, Veterans Day is a day set aside to honor and thank all those who have served in the armed forces, including those who gave their lives for their country. As a practical matter, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service.
Memorial Day, which was initially known as Decoration Day, originated after the American Civil War as a way of commemorating fallen Union soldiers, usually by decorating their graves in some way. Later it came to be seen as a way of honoring all those who have died for their country while serving in the armed forces.
Traditionally celebrated on May 30th, Memorial Day is now officially celebrated on the last Monday of May. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season in the United States while Labor Day, in September, marks the end of that season.
Memorial Day use to be a much more important holiday, one that was typically observed by visiting cemeteries and memorials and placing the American flag on the graves of those who died while serving their country. But that seems to be less true today for some reason.
These days people seem to use it more as an occasion for shopping, family gatherings, outdoor barbecues, trips to the beach, and sporting events like the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Perhaps that’s even appropriate in some ways for it’s the right to enjoy some of these simple rituals that Americans have fought and died to preserve over the centuries.
Still, one has to hope that Americans will at least take a moment to stop and reflect upon the real meaning of the holiday because over one million Americans have died fighting in the service of their country, more than 600,000 in the American Civil War alone.
Most Americans who have served in the armed forces, especially during war, understand at some level that they may be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice in battle. Other Americans, who have never been faced with that possibility, sometimes wonder how anyone can do something like that. Is it love of country? A belief in the cause for which they are fighting?
No doubt both of those may play some role. But if you ask those who have ever served, most will tell you they risk their lives for those with whom they serve, their friends and buddies, the people who share the hardships and dangers with them.
In every society there are people who give and people who take. A former Vice President takes liberties with the truth and young men and women are sent off in a fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction. The same individual is given a transplanted heart to replace one that never functioned properly and is thus allowed to continue peddling his political bile.
In the meantime, thousands of young men and women sent off to fight and die in an unnecessary war concocted by him and the clueless master he served will never have a chance to make the important contributions to America they would have if they had not been served so badly by their elected leaders and those Americans who allow themselves to be so easily stampeded into stupid wars.
It has been this way for too many years and for too many wars now. Will a new generation do better? One can only hope so.
Like others, I have my own rituals for the Memorial Day weekend, but I’ll be back in time to post the next chapter of Connected on Monday evening. That chapter will be the last in Part IV.
It isn’t much given their sacrifice, but I’m dedicating Part V of Connected, which consists of the final two chapters of the story, to the memory of those who have fought and died for America over the years, especially those who died in the unnecessary wars of the last half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty first.
Those responsible for their death will never be held accountable for their crimes. But that should not deter the rest of us from observing the sacrifice of those who honored their country rather than those who dishonored it.