This day, sadly, has evolved into a major shopping event for many people, missing the element of what it originally stood for. I must admit, I will be participating in some of those sales. It is also thought of as the "unofficial" beginning of summer. In my area of Binghamton, NY, the area carousels we are famous for open for the season, as do the lakes, and some other recreation areas.
But in memory of my late father, a disabled (non-combat) veteran of World War II, I will also take some time to honor his memory and those of other veterans I know. Which leads me to a discussion of how this holiday originated here in the United States.
This holiday, in my youth, was celebrated on May 30. Today, it is the last Monday of May, to allow many to have a three day weekend.
There are several versions of the origin of Memorial Day. Some of the stories depend on if you were from the Federal side, or the Confederate side, of the United States Civil War (1861-1865.). What the stories have in common is that Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, originated in a desire to honor the sacrifice of those who died in our Civil War. The Library of Congress lists several stories. Here are what are perhaps the two main origin stories:
Waterloo, New York, considers itself the birthplace of Memorial Day, and has a federally recognized Memorial Day museum. According to this story, Henry Wells, a local druggist, suggested a holiday in the fall of 1865 to honor the sacrifice of Civil War dead. The idea gained traction, and the first Memorial Day was held on May 5, 1866.
But there are other stories. One takes place in Mississippi, a state late a member of the Confederate States of America. As that story goes, many of the wounded of the bloody battle of Shiloh (1862) were taken to Columbus, Mississippi. Columbus ended up with its Friendship Cemetery full of Civil War dead of both sides. Eventually, the Federal dead were relocated to other area cemeteries.
According to Columbus, the first Memorial Day was held on April 5, 1866, as the women of Columbus decorated the graves of both Federal and Confederate soldiers buried in Columbus.
While I am speaking of cemetaries where Civil War dead are buried, I would be remiss (building on yesterday's theme of differences in how North and South refer to aspects of the Civil War) if I didn't mention the differences between Federal and Confederate gravestones.
Regardless of what the "true story" of Memorial Day is, I want to leave you with a modern, local story - the story of a family of a solider from Pennsylvania lost in the Vietnam War.
May your Memorial Day be a meaningful one.