Memorial Day is now past and some schools are out for the summer and others are winding down. Personally, I believe public schools should start after Labor Day and end on the Friday before Memorial Day. Maybe that’s a column for another day.
It has always been pretty interesting to me to watch and read what people say and do on Memorial Day, and I’m not talking about what the folks do or say after they have been drinking beer and eating barbecue all day on Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day and it was held on May 30 of each year. It was a time set aside for the nation “to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.” Notice they said, “war dead.” According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website, “In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May” (Congress loves three-day weekends).
You can read more about the history of Memorial Day HERE.
When I was a child, my parents would load me and a bunch of flowers (some real flowers and some plastic flowers) in the car and head off for a day of decorating graves across northern Missouri and southern Iowa. Some of the graves were for veterans and others were not. My parents and my grandmother decorated the graves and told story after story about the uncle, aunt, grandparent, or cousin’s life whose grave we were visiting. Looking back, I am amazed that my parents remembered where everyone was buried. It was an all-day trip.
Maybe this column will serve as a Memorial Day 101 primer. Some people need it. One elected official sent an e-mail over the Memorial Day weekend saying, “This Memorial Day, please join me in honoring the servicemen and servicewomen who have served our country overseas.” The funny thing is that this elected official is a retired military officer.
As a veteran, I always chuckle when I read about an elected official who did not serve in the military trying to tie themselves to veterans and the military with remarks like, “As the son of a Marine” or, “My grandfather served in Nam.” It’s like they are attempting to make-up for their non-military service.
As for Veterans Day, that day is November 11. That is a great day (as is every day) to thank a veteran for their service. November 11 has been a legal holiday since 1938. They attempted to make Veterans Day part of a three-day weekend, but that failed.
Veterans Day was once called Armistice Day and according to the VA website, “With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.” They key words there, “a day to honor American veterans of all wars.”
You can read all about the history of Veterans Day HERE.
Finally, it is never wrong to honor and thank a veteran for their service – that can never be done enough in this country, but it’s also important to know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.