Machine shop owner; M.J. Lee an elderly gentleman was well respected by the employees and was always addressed by his last name in the shop. That Friday afternoon, Mr. Lee came around at 3.30 PM as usual, taking names for the weekend shift. Not having much of a social life in those days, I was eager & readily available to work on the weekends. Mr. Lee stopped by my work area, nodded to me and then without even waiting for my answer, just jotted down my name on the list. Before moving to the next work station, he said; “Oh and by the way, you can work on Monday, as well, if you want to.” A bit puzzled, I asked him if the shop wasn’t closed for the Memorial Day Holiday. He stopped and turned around facing me as he spoke slowly. “I am not sure, how much you know about the U.S history, son, but my grandfather had fought in the Civil War under the command of Major General James P. Anderson”. He looked somber and his tone was somewhat gloomy as he continued. “My grandfather was 92 years old when he told me the stories of Yankees atrocities in vivid details and I must have been no more than 7 years old but I still remember the pain in my grandpa’s old eyes.” He went on to tell me that Memorial Day was nothing more than the Yankees’ way to remind the South that they had won and Confederate South had lost the war.
That was the last week of May in 1972 in Miami, Florida, where I was working as a machinist at a small family owned machine shop. Four years earlier, in 1968, Congress had passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971 and the same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. That afternoon in 1972, I couldn’t help wondering as to how many more men and women in the Southern States still carried the feelings of indignation, resentment and pain inflicted by the Civil War. I was saddened to think that perhaps the lingering fall out of Civil War would continue to haunt generations of Americans for many more years to come.
That was the depth of my pessimism back then. Forty some years later, the sentiments in the Southern States are much different from that afternoon in Miami, Florida. Today, Memorial Day is observed in the unified spirit of patriotism and with same sentiments of respect & camaraderie across the nation. North, South, East, West and everywhere in the U.S. cities, people honor the fallen soldiers; men and women who died in all wars while serving in the U.S. military. Today, Memorial Day is not associated with Civil War alone but has become a symbol of all wars fought by the US Military representing the entire nation. It has become a day of much more significance for the Americans to show gratitude and respect for our fallen heroes and to remember and honor their sacrifices for the nation.
From the historic perspective, Memorial Day is an American Holiday observed on the last Monday of May which has its origins in the years that followed the Civil War. Some historians claim that, Waterloo (NY) had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866. That date was chosen because Waterloo hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. In 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Aside from the ceremonial parades, laying flowers on the graves of soldiers, each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. In that moment, we make the mental pledge that we will always honor our fallen heroes and the sacrifices of those who died serving the nation will never be forgotten.
Some historians claim that it was General John Logan, leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans who called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “The 30th 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,” the General proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as it was originally called, was chosen May 30th because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. The Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history, requiring the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.
Today, cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades annually on last Monday in May, often attended by military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and war memorials. It has also become a tradition for many people to hold backyard gatherings and throw barbecue parties on this holiday. This tradition seems to be more in line with unofficial beginning of the summer season. Car dealers, retail merchants and online stores all have put their own twist on the event with special sales and discounts offered to the consumers. All the fun & commercial hoopla is fine to some degree as long as we do not forget the true spirit of Memorial Day celebrations. We must never forget the sacrifices of those who left their families, friends and comfort of homes to join their comrades in hostile lands and those who gave their lives to protect our freedom and the freedom of those who were unable to defend themselves.
While the whole nation comes together in celebrating the Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, some Southern states have also chosen other dates & days to honor the Confederate soldiers who died in Civil War. For example, Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April. North and South Carolina observes it on May 10th and some states on other dates in May and June. Many states call it Memorial Day while others call it Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day in January and Virginia celebrates the last Monday in May as Confederate Memorial Day. Regardless of how and when we celebrate the Memorial Day, we should also take it as a day of solemn reflection. We must think about the horrors of wars and armed conflicts and the miseries they inflict upon the mankind. We also make a pledge that we will do our best to discourage armed conflicts but if and when it comes to safe guarding the freedom of our nation, we will willingly lay down our own lives in the same spirit as those who have done that before and whom we are honoring today.