Calendars will tell us there are 15 weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the unofficial summer for the vast majority of us.
We’re going to fire up some grills this weekend, enjoy three days with family or friends, and a fair number of us are going to get into a routine that will last until football kicks off.
That’s all fine; it’s quite traditional and American. But let us not begin without first taking time to remember why this three-day weekend beckons.
Decoration Day, by the late 1860s a little over a decade before the first editions that evolved into this newspaper, was a staple in many places, though the practice was yet to have a permanency in timing across the country. It had started at Civil War soldiers’ graves, the earliest of which was believed to be in 1861. Some accounts say it was later. Nevertheless, the practice grew. Some gave Abraham Lincoln credit for founding it, but both sides of a battle that took the lives of 620,000 out of 2.4 million troops fighting were commemorating the lost after Lincoln’s 1865 assassination.
The South, our beloved homeland, was devastated.
True then and still today, military actions involving our troops unite us. So Monday we’ll pause and give thanks for those that lost their lives. In November, we’ll celebrate the service of all American military veterans.
We’ll see flags at half-staff in many places. Where they are not, we’d urge a benefit of the doubt.
After all, we’re a bit partial to the thinking of Benjamin Harrison. Our 23rd president elected in 1888 presided while six states were admitted into the Union. He’s also linked to the “Billion Dollar Congress,” unsuccessful federal education funding and protecting the voting rights for blacks.
“I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day,” Harrison said. “I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did.”
All of us handle our grief uniquely. Ultimately, we tend to believe those we’ve loved and lost would want us to remember the good times, to be thankful for those shared moments of life.
Those early commemorations were a bit spread out over the calendar. May 30 eventually became a date of choice. And in 1968, Congress made the last Monday in May a federal holiday.
Yes, we’re ready for summer. But before we step in, let’s pause.
To all the families of fallen service men and women, we humbly but sincerely offer in the memory of their loved one, “Thank you for your service to our country.”