Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. I like to publicly thank every veteran, as well as current military personnel for their service to our country. Without it, this country would never have grown to be what it has become, nor would we be enjoying the rights that many take for granted.
Recently a Facebook friend posted a photo which lambasted the media because
"…Memorial Day is not about Veterans. Memorial Day is about those that did not come home to become veterans."
The very first comment said, "Same Dif…semantics!" suggesting they were the same; which was followed by back and forth dialog on whether there was a difference between the two holidays.
After doing some reading on the subject, it's become obvious that it's not as crystal clear as that photo suggested.
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Unofficially Memorial Day is the older of the two holidays. The exact origin of Memorial Day is somewhat clouded, with groups of people both north AND south of the Mason-Dixon Line, claiming to have been the first.
In those days it was known as Decoration Day because loved ones would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers who gave their all during that family squabble known as the American Civil War.
It wasn't until 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day an official national holiday.
The day is generally filled with parades brimming with soldiers and floats, as well as air shows commemorating past conflicts, and the soldiers who took part. Unofficially it's also filled with BBQs marking the start of Summer.
California doesn't have the same fervor as the East Coast. That's probably because we have been lucky enough to have escaped military conflict on our soil, and invasion by foreign powers.
One of the most spectacular events takes place at America's National Cemeteries. But, it's a simple thing that probably escapes most people's thoughts today.
For several days beforehand thousands of volunteers go gravestone to gravestone making sure a small American flag graces the front of the marker.
If you have never visited Golden Gate National Cemetery on Memorial Day, you should. The utter silence with 140,000 tiny flags flapping in the breeze is awe inspiring.
Frankly, its more serene sight with quiet contemplation does more to commemorate our nation's sacrifice than any parade.
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In 1919, WWI was fresh in the minds of many Americans. It's generally considered the first modern war due to many technological advances of the time such as tanks, airplanes and mustard gas.
On the one year anniversary of the end of WWI, President Calvin Coolidge declared every November 11th a day to commemorate the end of hostilities.
(The official armistice went into effect 11-11-18, and because someone somewhere had a macabre sense of humor it took place, not at Midnight, but, at 11pm)
However, it wasn't until 1938 when Congress officially named it a Federal holiday.
Much to people's horror, WWI turned out not to be the War to End All Wars, to be joined in people's consciousness by the first true global war, WWII, and not to go unmentioned the Korean War.
Congress changed the holiday's name in 1954 to Veterans Day, to be inclusive of all veterans from all conflicts past and present.
What's forgotten by most, myself included until I was doing research for this post, was that Coolidge's original proclamation was not to celebrate those that returned live from the front, but to remember those that did not.
"To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
Arguably, Veterans Day is not observed nearly as much as Memorial Day. Probably, in part because of it falling two months after school has started, during the tail end of the Fall harvest and when BBQ weather has left much of the country.
Besides that, it's not part of a three day weekend, despite it originally becoming one under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Only four years after moving five holidays to Mondays; to create long weekends; Congress chose to move Veterans Day back to it's original date.
It should be noted that while Memorial Day is truly an American national holiday, "Veterans" Day is commemorated around the world in multiple nations, albeit under different names.
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Today, I turned on the History Channel while having breakfast After all, it's Memorial Day. Surely they're going to have lots of historical goodness I could lose myself in today. Just ending was some program on WWII, only to be followed by episode after episode of Pawn Stars.
God bless Big Rick, Corey, Chumlee and the Old Man. But, little historical blurbs about items being pawned or sold just shouldn't cut it on Memorial Day.
I found a blog Tech Crunch editorial frustrated by this as well, only to realize it was from 2011.
But, that's not even the full series. They aired 3 episodes; then stuck an odd-ball episode of Target Earth about climate change, before repeating the same episodes! Thing is it's a 10 part series. Would it have killed them to have aired the whole thing today?