On what is considered by many as the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day is usually a time of celebration. Fireworks, concerts, BBQs, the opening of public pools…all some of the traditional hallmarks of this time of year. For many, schools are either out, or about to get out (weather dependent for some parts of the nation). Especially this year, after 2020, when many of the normal trappings of the holiday were suspended, it should be an expressive time for celebration.
Yet amid all the traditional celebrations, there is the primary reason for the holiday. While Memorial Day did not officially become a federal holiday until 1971, people throughout the U.S. observed Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, since the end of the Civil War. While there are conflicting accounts as to who first proposed a day to honor those who died in combat, the first municipality to observe such a day was Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866. On that day, the city businesses closed, the town held a parade, and the townspeople placed wreaths/flags on the graves of those who fought in the various American wars. By 1868, there was a call to make May 30th the official Decoration Day. By 1871, then-president James Garfield started the tradition of giving an address at Arlington Cemetery on Decoration Day.
Originally, Decoration Day focused on remembering those who fought and died during the Civil War, which was, and still is, the bloodiest war in U.S. history (~655,000 deaths). However, after the devastation of World War I, which saw over 116,000 killed, the scope of Decoration Day expanded to encompass all American conflicts. Additionally, different states observed Decoration Day on different dates until after World War I, when May 30th became a constant. By the end of World War I, the name of the day evolved from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. With the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, which took effect in 1971, the last Monday in the month of May became the new Memorial Day and as remained that way ever since.
Since the birth of the American nation, over 1.3 million individuals have died fighting for this country in wars and major military actions from the American Revolution to the current engagements in Afghanistan. It is a bill that will never stop being paid. While exact motivations or actions of individuals or engagement are subject to debate, none can argue about the price that is paid for the nation we have.
Among those numbers include a number of members of the NFL. Since the founding of the league in 1921, 26 players/coaches/front office executives went off to war and never returned. 23 individuals were killed in World War II, 2 were killed in Vietnam, and 1 died in Afghanistan. To date, there are no Houston (Oiler or Texan) war casualties.
While Memorial Day is dedicated to those who died and Veterans Day honors those who fought and lived, people will honor both on each respective holiday. Various wreath laying and flag posting events at cemeteries and memorials occur on each day. With increased vaccinations and lowering case numbers, more people will be out in force for Memorial Day celebrations.
We at Battle Red Blog wish that all our readers (fans and not-quite fans alike) take the chance to celebrate this weekend. However, we would ask the following:
- Be safe and smart about your celebrations. Just because COVID-19 in America is looking like it is in retreat, there are other pratfalls that can accompany holidays like this. Remember all your fire safety lessons/instructions with cookouts. Don’t discount bug spray and sunscreen for shorter and longer-term health. Remember to be kind and respectful to each other. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. We want you back surfing our page in the same, if not better shape, after the holiday.
- Take a moment to reflect on the reason for the holiday. Especially after the events of the past year, definitions of sacrifice and service should take on a greater meaning for us as a nation. If you can’t attend a memorial ceremony or a commemoration, there are many other ways to show your gratitude that can and will make a difference:
Donate to the USO. As one who has made extensive use of their services across the globe, this is a simple way to contribute. Other charities for donation: