As what has become known as the American Civil War (aka: War Between the States, War for Southern Independence, War of Northern Aggression) drew to a close 145 years ago this Spring, communities across the divided nation harbored in their cemeteries fresh reminders of the war's toll. Across the South, in particular, owing to the fact that most of the war's battles had been fought coincident with Union Army invasions of Confederate territory, cemeteries held the mortal remains of both Confederate and Union soldiers. Each Spring in many towns across the as yet unreconstructed South, the graves of Confederate war dead were decorated with flowers, and the graves of Union soldiers were left ignored. In 1866, the ladies in one southern town--Columbus, Mississippi--celebrated Decoration Day by not only placing flowers on the graves of Confederate dead, but by so honoring the Union dead as well. There that day in Friendship Cemetery, ground in which the remains of many of the Colonel's departed kin are interred, a movement of reconciliation began and spread across the land in the months and years following.
Decoration Day (beginning over time to be called by some, Memorial Day) persisted for the next several generations as a day of remembering the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who, in Abraham Lincoln's simple eloquence, "gave their last full measure of devotion" to their nation. Following the First and Second World Wars, in which over half a million young American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines gave their lives in the defense of freedom, Decoration Day became officially known as Memorial Day, with the sole purpose of remembering and honoring those who died in the wars to which their nation sent them.
While they are most certainly deserving of recognition, Memorial Day is not a day to thank the living who served in uniform. Veterans' Day is for that. Nor is it appropriate to recognize those currently serving--Armed Forces Day is for that. Finally, Memorial Day, although some have so perverted it, is not for remembering just anyone who has gone to their final reward.
Sadly, Memorial Day has lost its proper meaning in the lives of most Americans. The Federal Government is mostly to blame for this. The National Holiday Act of 1971 lumped Memorial Day in with several other much less meaningful holidays and decreed that each should be celebrated on a Monday in order to give Federal workers a three-day weekend. Since that time, "Memorial Day Weekend" has become more about celebrating the "unofficial start of Summer" and much less about remembering our fallen. What's even worse is that as a bookend, Memorial Day has been reduced to equivalency with that Marxist invention of the Labor movement--Labor Day--at the other end of the shelf of summer.
With its roots in Decoration Day, one of Memorial Day's customs is the placement of American flags on the graves of war dead. In addition, Americans who fly a national flag should lower that flag to half mast until noon on Memorial Day. Finally, 3:00 P.M. local time is set aside for a moment of silence and reflection on the sacrifice of those for whom the day is dedicated.
Unfortunately, by 3 o'clock this afternoon, most Americans will be so inebriated or so gluttonously stuporous to even remember where they are, let alone remember those whose lives paid for their freedom.