I write as someone who regularly got shot at, rocketed, and mortared by people I didn’t even know who wanted to kill me. I mention this matter only to establish my bona fides to hold forth on such a weighty matter.
My guess is that we have eleven too many “memorial days” of one sort or another, some of which you’ve never heard of and two of which are mercifully defunct, although I know from personal experience among the inhabitants of the holiday catacombs who dedicate way too much time to such things, that the officially defunct ones live on, at some debilitated level.
April 6 Army Day: The date was chosen because on that date in 1917 the United States entered World War I. Last officially observed in 1949.
Last Monday in May, our official Memorial Day: Its history is murky. Confederate veterans and the survivors of those who fell in battle seem to have come up with the idea first. They called it “Decoration Day.” Why? Recall the scene in Gone with the Wind when the very proper Atlanta matron, Miss Dolly Merriwether says to another equally stuffed corset, regarding Rhett Butler during his quest-for-social-acceptance-at-any-price phase: “. . . Captain Butler has made a stupendous contribution to The Association for the Beautification of the Graves of the Glorious Dead.” Quite a mouthful, huh? Try saying it real fast. Anyway, it was the day set aside to put flowers on the graves of fallen Confederates.
Today, I have observed — along, no doubt, with many of you — the Memorial Day is a day for parades and cheerful flag-waving, and that’s fine. But it has principally become a day for drinking too much beer and, if the weather is nice, a day for picnics and softball games during which middle-aged couch potatoes rue the day they didn’t come to an “open try out” at Yankee stadium, and/or have heart attacks – and let’s not overlook the opportunities to get another guy’s gal blasted and grope her when he isn’t looking. Blow-out sales at the mall. Another paid day off.
Various Dates, Confederate Memorial Day(s):: All 11 states of the Confederacy — plus Kentucky, which never formally seceded but had a strong pro-secessionist minority — deeply resented the co-opting of “their” holiday by the “blue bellies,” and still do. These 12 states have their own Memorial Days, all observed on different dates, the typically futile gestures of independent “nation states” loosely stitched together by the most meager of “constitutions” in a hapless and feckless confederation, rather than the single act of a strong, indissoluble Union of subordinate states. In Tennessee where I have lived for 18 years and from which I will never move, “Memorial Day” is June 3.
June 14 Army Day: (What? Another one? Yeah.) The date of the establishment by the Continental Congress of our Army, such as it was, in 1775. Exactly two years later our elected representatives labored and brought forth:
June 14, Flag Day: On that date in 1777 the United States Congress decreed that our national flag would be composed of 13 alternating red and white horizontal stripes with an inset, upper left, of 13 white stars arranged in a circle against a field of blue.
July 4 Independence Day: The day on which the members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. It was actually adopted by unanimous voice vote on July 2nd. The Congress then adjourned to give the scribes time to make numerous originals for signing and distribution. The one definite keeper, for reasons obvious to all, I trust.
August 1 Air Force Day: The date was chosen because on that day in 1907 the Army established an entity elegantly called the Aeronautical Division of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army. (Doesn’t that just send you away singing?) The Aeronautical division eventually morphed into the United States Army Air Corps, then the United States Army Air Force and finally, in 1947, the United States Air Force.
August 31 Armed Forces Day: Hey, we’ve got a “day” for each of the armed forces, and two for the Army. Why not have a truly redundant day for all of them? Created August 31, 1949.
October 13 Navy Day: On that date in 1775 the Continental Navy was established. Still with us.
November 10 Marine Corps Day:: The date in 1775 on which the Continental Marine Corps was established. If you’re within arm’s reach of a US Marine on November 10th don’t even hint that we have too many “holidays” and that this is one we can do without. After you regain consciousness and scrape yourself up off the floor you will rethink your position.
November 11 Veterans Day The armistice between the warring nations was signed on November 10, 1918, and called for an end to hostilities at 11:00 AM the next day — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Word passed quickly along the Western front, but some men died during that final day in skirmishes over yards of scorched earth. November 11 was observed as “Armistice Day” until 1954 when it was designated Veterans Day.
So, we keep the 4th of July, of course. By implication it celebrates not merely the freedom and independence of, in the words of William F. Buckley, Jr., “the greatest continuing secular miracle the world has ever seen,” but also the breathtaking success of what has become the most powerful, prosperous, selfless, and kindest nation on earth, and: hardship, loyalty, sacrifice, and “Duty-Honor-Country” (General Douglas MacArthur) — from April 18th, 1775, when someone fired “the shot heard ‘round the world;” through Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, and Appomattox Courthouse; St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne, where my Dutch immigrant grandfather fought as a machine gunner with the US 312th Infantry Regiment during the last bloody year of World War I; the boys and young men who ended the Holocaust, crushed two of the most fearsome tyrannies ever to plague the earth and, along the way, saved Western Civilization from vanishing into history’s dustbin — including my late father and my uncle; and the Chosin Reservoir, Tet, Kuwait, Manhattan, Afghanistan, Iraq. And perhaps we should also keep:
My “memorial days” and yours Only occasionally does a day pass during which I do not remember, at least for a few fleeting seconds, the faces and the names of the friends I lost or nearly lost in Vietnam; and the “near friends,” too: like a guy who dated my younger sister. I had dated his older sister a time or three — Miss East Orange, NJ, 1964 — or was it ’65? Some of them I never got to know very well because we were together only for brief periods, in the same platoon or squad during one phase or another of Army combat training. In this way they live in my memory and in my heart for as long as I do. Pick a date, or dates. Have your own reverent memorial day, or days.
Now you can Play Ball!