Thingish Things

Memorial Day

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - May• 27•11

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to blurt out the meaning of Memorial Day, giving me no time at all to consider my answer, I might very well shout out, along with lots of other Americans I suspect, “it marks the start of summer!”  I am ashamed to admit that, but it’s true.

I’m hell on wheels for Veterans Day.  I’ve got the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month thing down cold.  I make my daughters’ eyes roll with it every year. But Memorial Day — God help me for saying it — makes me think of hot dogs more than, say, Shilo or Appomattox Courthouse.

In fact, this morning, I had to go online to recall the history behind Memorial Day — that it originally was a day to remember those lost in the American Civil War.  Only later was it extended to include those killed in other wars.  I muttered to myself while reading about the day — like the liar I am — “of course, I knew that,” but, truth be told, much of it was a revelation to me.

Like the fact that Southern states did not celebrate Memorial Day until after World War I, when the day was extended to remembering soldiers lost in that conflict.  They did not want to honor Union soldiers killed in action on the same day they remembered their own kin. Several Southern states still have their own days of remembrance in fact.

I did not know that Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” or that the Third U.S. Infantry Division places American flags at every gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery — there are more than 260,000 of them — the Thursday before Memorial Day (yesterday.) And I didn’t know that there has been a bill in Congress for years to move the national holiday to May 30th so that it does not necessarily create a three-day weekend, and become lost in travel plans.  In short, I really didn’t know anything about the day at all, other than it marked warm weather and a long weekend.

So more for me than for you, I include these links (here, here, here, and here) on the history of Memorial Day.  I promise to read them before firing up the grill, especially on this 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

I’ll also try to remember that summer begins on June 21st. Duh. I knew that!



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  1. Me says:

    But next year summer begins on June 20, so don’t get out any stone-carving tools!

  2. Nick says:

    More Americans were killed in the Civil War than all our other wars combined. Lincoln felt that the war was a punishment on the nation for slavery.

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