Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Memorial Day Matters

I am reprinting this in whole because it seems a shame to simply parse and link with such a great piece that everyone should read:

Memorial Day was born in the still-bloody and emotional years immediately after the Civil War, when families were torn asunder and the nation split down a jagged line on titanic questions of American values and survival.

John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Republic Army, issued the order for marking the graves of Civil War soldiers on May 5, 1868. Here is the decree:

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?

"Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.

"Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

"If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

"It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith."

As a nation, we have periodically forgotten these beautiful and earnest words during times of turmoil. The worst was during the Vietnam War when a segment among us confused the roles of soldier and diplomat and blamed the fight on the fighter, not the policy that set the battle.

As a society we have learned, I think, our lesson and we now honor and love the sacrifice of the men and women who stand guard even while we debate the policies that caused that sacrifice. None among us should be too confused, too frightened or too lazy to lift a salute of gratitude and honor to those who died wearing the uniform of soldier, sailor or marine, those who wielded weapons of death in order to preserve life.

This is the ideal of the American military, and it is realized every day in the hot sand, regardless of politics, mistakes, right and wrong. This is worth honoring, and taking a moment, perhaps, to hear the "reveille of freedom" that still rings.

Also see Castle Argghhh! Taking Back the Holiday

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