Preserving Graves–and Advertising for Occupants

In 1868, on May 5, General John Logan (from any number of origins, including having been inspired or jealous of the community attention being paid to Confederate graves, the original impetus having remained an historical mystery), proclaimed, as “commander-in-chief” of the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization of former Union soldiers, sailors, et al), TO the Grand Army of the Republic:

General Orders No.11
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. 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.

He added:

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 hishonor; 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 was known as “Decoration Day” and stands as the holiday created by the G.A.R. In 1882, the name was changed to “Memorial Day” and honored the deceased from ALL U.S. wars. It wasn’t until after World War I that the South* honored their war dead on that same day. (Eventually being included in the holiday, irrespective of what the venerable GAR might have thought.)

[* From the Memorial Day DOT org History page:

… The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it….

Merchant, David M. “Memorial Day” (1994). ]

However, according to Wikipedia:

The alternative name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.

Appropriately enough, it was under Nixon, in 1971 that Memorial Day was legally changed to the fourth Monday in May, in order to get a three day weekend.

Wikipedia continues:

On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington’s Birthday (which evolved into Presidents’ Day), Columbus Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply at the state level, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years, although Veterans Day was eventually changed back to its traditional date.

Every year since 1998 Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawai’i has introduced legislation to return Memorial Day to May 30. Nothing has yet come of it.

In addition, the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War would like “Decoration Day” back on May 30th. After all, Veterans’ Day (originally Armistice Day) was returned to November 11 from its three-day-holiday exile.

The other veterans can be honored, but the three day beer-and-boating, summer movie opening and sales marathon really needs to stop. Decoration Day was originally a day to not only honor the war dead, but to MAINTAIN their gravestones.

Instead, SOME have decided to make it an advertisement for more FRESH gravestones:

Excerpts from Bush’s Remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.

Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes — men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi. Like those who came before them, they did not want war — but they answered the call when it came. They believed in something larger than themselves. They fought for our country, and our country unites to mourn them as one.

We remember Army Specialist Ross Andrew McGinniss. Ross was born on Flag Day in 1987. When he was in kindergarten, he said he wanted to grow up to be “an Army man.” He enlisted at 17 — the first day he was eligible. He deployed to Iraq. Last December, a grenade was thrown into his Humvee as Ross was patrolling the streets of Baghdad. The soldiers inside could not escape in time, so Ross leapt into the vehicle and covered the grenade with his own body. By sacrificing himself to save four other men, he earned a Silver Star — and the eternal gratitude of the American people.

We remember Marine Sergeant Marc Golczynski of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Marc volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq. He knew the dangers his service would entail. Before he deployed, he wrote the following in an email to his family and friends: “Please don’t feel bad for us. We are warriors, and as warriors have done before us we fight and sometimes die so our families do not have to.” Marc left behind an eight-year-old son, Christian, who is with us today; he managed to be brave while he held his father’s folded flag…

As before in our history, Americans find ourselves under attack and underestimated. Our enemies long for our retreat. They question our moral purpose. They doubt our strength of will. Yet even after five years of war, our finest citizens continue to answer our enemies with courage and confidence. Hundreds of thousands of patriots still raise their hands to serve their country; tens of thousands who have seen war on the battlefield volunteer to re-enlist. What an amazing country to produce such fine citizens…

We’ve heard of 174 Marines recently — almost a quarter of a battalion — who asked to have their enlistments extended. For these extensions, they would earn no promotion and no promise of a favored posting. They want to serve their nation. And as one of them put it this way: “I’m here so our sons don’t have to come and fight here someday.”

Those who serve are not fatalists or cynics. They know that one day this war will end — as all wars do. Our duty is to ensure that its outcome justifies the sacrifices made by those who fought and died in it. From their deaths must come a world where the cruel dreams of tyrants and terrorists are frustrated and foiled — where our nation is more secure from attack, and where the gift of liberty is secured for millions who have never known it.

This is our country’s calling. It’s our country’s destiny. Americans set off on that voyage more than two centuries ago, confident that this future was within our reach — even though the shore was distant, and even though the journey may be long. And through generations, our course has been secured by those who wear a uniform, secured by people who man their posts, and do their duty. They have helped us grow stronger with each new sunrise.

On this Day of Memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom. They lived and died as Americans. May we always honor them. May we always embrace them. And may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.

Thank you for having me. May God bless you and may God continue to bless our country.


(Or else.)



© 2007 Hart Williams. Cross-posted from Zug - Hart Williams' Blog
The continuation of
Skiing Uphill and Boregasm, Zug is 'the little blog that could.'

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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2 Responses to Preserving Graves–and Advertising for Occupants

  1. Robert Stein says:

    In his Arlington Cemetery sermon, President Bush was promising the families of the fallen that their sons, brothers and fathers were in his version of Heaven and died to provide a heaven-on-earth for others here and in Iraq while taking a subtle swipe at war critics as “fatalists or cynics.” My take:

  2. Good take, Robert. Bush’s (speechwriter’s) statement:

    “Now this hallowed ground receives a new generation of heroes — men and women who gave their lives in places such as Kabul and Kandahar, Baghdad and Ramadi. Like those who came before them, they did not want war — but they answered the call when it came…”

    Is one of the ugliest unintentional self-damnations I’ve ever heard. Clueless doesn’t begin to cut it. When I heard this sound bite on CNN early on Memorial Day (quickly expunged for the touchy feely lines), I couldn’t believe he said it. And then, I couldn’t believe that no one noticed it.

    Paraphrasing: Now the soldiers I sent to their graves are in this cemetery, let me tell you how happy they must be to be dead …