Today we join our fellow Americans to celebrate Memorial Day. Many community leaders and organizations have created special, commemorative programs to honor the veterans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy.
Despite some outward appearances, Memorial Day is meant to be a solemn and reflective time for all Americans. Of course there are many ways to observe this holiday. Today’s post is not meant to diminish the family activities that will be held, but simply to serve as a reminder of the heavy price connected with the privileges we frequently take for granted.
As we prepare to pay tribute to the men and women who are no longer with us, I would also like to pay tribute to the veterans who served in recent wars, and now struggle to pick up their lives from where they left off.
For many, the transition has been wrought with many challenges such as: insufficient housing, inadequate health care, dwindling employment and rising costs of furthering their education. Some of our veterans are now struggling to find their way. As a nation we should feel embarrassed to learn that many veterans are homeless, while others face health challenges that will leave them wounded – physically, and emotionally – for years to come.
Our veterans were proud to serve our country, but were disillusioned when they try to re-enter society. I do not claim to have the answer to what is documented as a growing problem, but I firmly believe the impetus to solve this problem starts with an honest dialogue that acknowledges the problem exists. So tomorrow, when we greet each other with a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” let’s take a moment to recognize that, for some, this sentiment is not fully recognized. It is truly up to us to honor and cherish the veterans who are no longer with us and those who are.
To the brave women and men who have given their lives to protect America, we honor and cherish you. To the brave women and men who return home, to take their rightful place in society, we salute you and cherish you for all that you have done.
Last year, I wrote an article on the origins of Memorial Day and the important role that African-American veterans paid in shaping this holiday. The article is reprinted below for your convenience.
Happy Memorial Day!
Have a great week.
Reflecting on Memorial Day 2013
On Monday, May 29th, Memorial Day was observed in the United States. I was pleased to read so many tributes where the authors went to great lengths to make the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Both observances are equally important. However, it is my opinion that in the United States we could do more to recognize the women and men who have died to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Whenever I see and hear the words “Happy Memorial Day,” connected with a sale or other promotion, I feel a bit awkward and find the positioning to be insensitive; especially given the wars we are still involved with. With so many other days to shop and save, I would like to see us become more mindful of everything we have to be thankful for.
There are two accounts of the origins of Memorial Day that I would like to share. The first account comes from the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The second account comes from The Root and Black America Web.
Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to adorn the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30th of each year. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Today, in the United States, Memorial Day is a federal holiday that occurs every year on the final Monday of May. On this day we recognize the women and men who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Many of the rituals that make up Memorial Day were born out of Decoration Day which originated after the American Civil War as mentioned above. The one major difference is that today we extend this tribute to Americans who have died in all wars.
The Root and Black America Web
According to Black America Web, African-American veterans were the first to celebrate our fallen soldiers. David Blight, a History Professor at Yale University, credits African-American soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina with launching the first Decoration Day, in honor of the Union’s war dead on May 1, 1865.
After the Civil War ended, these soldiers went to places where they knew hundreds of their fellow service men, who were also prisoners of war, were buried in mass graves. As a show of humanity these soldiers, many who were recently freed slaves, gave their fellow service men a proper burial. After the burials were complete, they decorated the graves. According to legend, this ritual took hold and was the beginning of the Memorial Day tributes we now see across the country.
The objective here is not to debate which account is more accurate but to simply point out the important contributions that people of African descent have made to shape our great nation.
We at Brooklyn Legends take great pride in saluting our fallen soldiers and thank them for all the sacrifices they have made. It is our honor to pay tribute to them.