Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States. Or perhaps tomorrow is, if you follow the old ways.
Memorial Day was an ad hoc tradition from the days of the Civil War. It was sometimes known as “Decoration Day.” The decorations, in this case, being the ones that would be taken to the graves of fallen soldiers. A few years after the war’s end, consolidation of the holiday occurred. The date of May 30th was supposedly chosen for its lack of significance to any particular battle.
In 1971, the official date was changed, along with other Federal holidays, to make it the last Monday in May, thus creating a 3-day weekend. The holiday had also long become, not a Civil War memorial, but a memorial for all servicemen killed in the line of duty.
The tradition of lamenting those who fail to remember the true spirit of the holiday also goes back at least 100 years. The Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War Veterans, was one of the strongest proponents for the holiday and its observation. They used the date to help push their political agenda (pensions, mostly) as well as urging a solemn and dignified celebration (family were urged to keep their war veterans sober). By the turn of the century, they are on record as complaining about the “younger generation” who “forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears.” This is one tradition we keep strong.
For myself, I did not engage in races and revelry yesterday. I cannot credit this to a superior character as it was a little too cold out for merry-making. My celebration of Memorial Day consisted of rewatching the film We Were Soldiers.
I have seen it said online as well as heard it from Vietnam War veterans that We Were Soldiers is the best Vietnam War film yet made. Hal Moore has spoken favorably of Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him. I cannot speak to that. However, young me spent some years on military bases around that time and there are a handful of scenes that, despite being mere actors doing their thing, absolutely capture the mannerisms and bearing the 1960s American officer.
Since the film was released, both General Moore and Sgt. Major Plumley have passed on. May they, and all those who died in America’s wars, rest in peace.