This morning I read a post over at The Fox Forum, written by Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC newsman Bob Woodruff who was seriously injured in Iraq close to the beginning of the war.
Let me first honor Bob for his service to journalism and both he and Lee for their Foundation, found at www.Remind.org, which is a charitable organization helping injured service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the post Lee seems to be confusing the purpose of Memorial Day, which is to honor those military members who have died, and Veterans Day, which is to honor all Veterans, alive or dead.
The post dares be a little confrontational, with an indictment of Americans in general by someone who stated, "Some of us went to war and the rest of America went shopping."
I can forgive Lee the sentiment, first because of her family's sacrifice, and second because later in the post you realize she is trying to guilt us into giving money to her Foundation to help the troops. The capitalist in me finds nothing wrong with a little creative salesmanship. I hope you'll donate.
I do have a problem with Lee saying this:
"But how many of us truly pause on this holiday to think about the real meaning of the weekend. How many of us this Memorial Day will stop to honor not only the veterans of previous wars, but the 1.65 million who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Lee should "truly pause on this holiday to think about the real meaning of the weekend."
Memorial Day was originally called "Decoration Day" and was enacted in 1868 to honor fallen Union servicemen by having flowers placed about their graves.
Here is the Order issued by the Army creating the observance:
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 churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or 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 by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? 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 pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no 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 and other hinds slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. 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 call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this Order effective.
The reason Veterans sell poppies on Memorial Day is a nod to the poem "In Flanders Field," which is about poppies growing in a cemetery were soldiers are buried.
Decoration Day was later changed to Memorial Day, likely in an effort to bring the South into the holiday. It became a federal holiday by Statute in 1967.
Memorial Day is certainly about the soldiers who have left us, not the Vets who are still with us, as Lee Woodruff suggests.
Veterans Day grew out of the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, known as "the end of the war to end all wars."
In 1919 President Wilson declared "Armistice Day," but the focus was again on fallen soldiers:
"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…"
In 1926 Congress weighed in with this resolution about Armistice Day:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938.
In 1954, at the urging of Veterans groups, the 1938 law was amended to strike out the word "Armistice" and replace it with the word "Veterans," thus giving rise to our current November holiday to honor Veterans.
While I tip my hat to Lee Woodruff for her efforts, it remains true that history and tradition are important to America and we can't lose site of them. That's part of what the military fights for.
Happy Memorial Day weekend. Leave a flower on the grave of a Vet this weekend, or buy a poppy from a Vet when shopping.