My mother always used the term “Decoration Day.” She remembered, I suppose, her childhood days when Memorial Day was primarily a time to decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers, wreaths and flags. Whatever name we use, Decoration Day or Memorial Day, it is a day for remembering those who have died in service to our country.
On May 30, 1868, the first national celebration of Memorial Day, former General and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield (eventually POTUS) made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery: “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” After the speech, the 5000 participants helped decorate the graves of some 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Approximately 1,265,000 American military men and women have died in America’s wars—620,000 in the Civil War (some say as many as 750,000) and 645,000 in all other conflicts and the number grows as the longest-war-ever in our nation's history continues. “How can you have a war on terrorism,” writes Howard Zinn, “when war itself is terrorism.”
How I wish we as a nation (and world) could live into that African-American spiritual, Down By the Riverside, “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside….I ain’t gonna study war no more.” I would think we would all consider that option (I ain’t gonna study war no more) as we observe Decoration/Memorial Day and remember the horrendous cost. War is costly—and I don’t mean in terms of dollars—but in terms of human life. War must never be glorified or romanticized, for war is not a Memorial Day picnic or a computer game. War may reveal noble deeds, courage, valor, patriotism, and the unspeakable sacrifices we remember and honor today, but war also reveals hideous brutality, stupidity, destruction, and killing, not only of those in the military, but the innocents who happen to be in harm’s way.
|My "Weeping Rose" on Memorial Day|