Decoration Day

We Americans need to remove Memorial Day from our Monday holiday schedule. Instead, like Independence Day, observe this occasion on the date whence it falls. Unless it occurs on a Saturday or Sunday. Only then we should accede and extend the holiday onto Monday.

We should resume Memorial Day’s normal cycle in order to give more than lip service to patriotism and sacrifice. Americans have been giving both shorter shrift since the Reagan Administration. Currently, President Scalawag has all but erased their meaning.

The America in which we presently reside has become at its now feebly beating heart one the Founders would not recognize. Not from the technological or social advances none of them could’ve conceived. The tricorns, breeches and buckles set would see that little of the premise which created our once great nation still exists.

Rather, Americans have been gradually becoming disinclined in practicing the attributes that incited the Colonials to become Americans.

Unlike other nationally acknowledged breaks sprinkling the American calendar, Memorial Day is somber. It is not one of our a-whoopin’ ‘n’ a-hollerin’ holidays.

While we popularly see it as summer’s unofficial opening, the basis behind what had traditionally been observed on the 30th of May always meant it never aroused anywhere near the festivity of the Fourth or even Labor Day.

We originally set aside this day in remembrance of those Americans who’ve given their fullest measure to preserve the Union. Initially established as Decoration Day by grateful freedmen after the Civil War to honor Northern dead – the ex-slaves’ true emancipators – generosity of spirit towards the defeated Confederate states eventually included the Rebel dead.

Be sure that magnanimous gesture extended to the North would’ve been beyond those traitors had calamity struck and the South victorious instead.

It doesn’t take much to imagine those ex-slave ceremonies as gracious, their grave adornments simple yet soulful. Rather than heat the air with bombast, the preacher would’ve bestowed proper homilies and parables. Why a preacher? For the most part slaves had been purposely kept illiterate. The man who attended to the blacks’ spiritual needs would’ve possessed knowledge of the Gospel and the necessary oratorical verve to deliver it.

No doubt the long ago poignancy left more meaningful impressions on those gathered than our own manufactured rituals aimed at manipulation.

With the United States expanding its influence, and through consequence involving itself in distant military conflicts, those eligible for commemoration grew. By 1971, decrees were issued to align most of our federal holidays on the closest Monday to create three-day weekends. Decoration Day was also given its present title. Thus a piece of our history got plowed under commerce through opportunism.

This realignment and renaming dropped the day into the second tier of national holidays.

Growing up in Quarropas, New York, once a Colonial settlement of the Crown and later a Revolutionary War battle site, especially before the commercial prospects bled much of the meaning from the original purpose, Decoration Day always stepped off a parade which drew a larger than usual number of locals.

Then, Quarropas remained a New York City bedroom community. Longtime family names predominated. Gotham escapees who would flood our city and loosen its close-knit, nearly incestuous connections sat many years off yet.

While Quarropas hosted several parades throughout the year, Decoration Day files and fifes was the only procession at which father ever appeared. The event’s solemnity may’ve given him and other veterans opportunity to reflect on combat, survival, and loss.

A World War II soldier, father never bothered expressing what current blowhards might scream “patriotism!” He had, as the understated line goes, done his bit, came back, and ever since did his best to lead a good life.

Once demobilization stripped him of a uniform and relieved him from taking orders, father never joined any veterans’ organizations, stepped foot into a VFW hall, or received care at a VA hospital. What he’d make of Donald Trump assailing John McCain is unknowable. But some measure of disgust is likely. Probably give the vile pig the same disregard he gave John Wayne’s war movies. Father much preferred the Duke as a cowboy.

Wayne, a movie star who never served in uniform yet reaped outsized fame for the screen persona he conveyed through “army pictures,” was an actor whose Wild West portrayals father found more genuine than his Hollywood combat sequences. If one listened closely, a good percentage of Second World War combatants shared this similar view of the screen legend. Some more vehemently than others.

It would discourage father that we’ve permitted our volunteer army to become a fist that promotes, projects, and protects American corporate global interests more than shield our country. He died before Iraq grew into full folly, engulfing and roiling the Levant until today. Having lived life during wartime, he wasn’t a proponent of deploying American troops willy-nilly to demonstrate “American resolve.”

Father never believed and possibly knew no one who thought the idiotic act of waving a gun around would solve everything.

Perhaps even more distressing to father would be how divorced the public has become regarding those who serve in our armed forces. In his rural South boyhood, father may’ve known a dwindling number of ex-slaves as well as ancients who’d worn the Rebel gray. He certainly knew veterans who’d borne arms during the Spanish-American War and World War I. They were relatives and neighbors.

Looking back, didn’t most of his male friends in civilian life also share defining Second World War experiences? Three of his 4 brothers either slogged through the European Theater or performed duties as Occupation troops. Maybe theirs was the biggest, baddest, and best fraternity our country will ever see.

So on father’s civvy sidewalks the high probability of male passersby having served narrowed distinctions. In fact for the longest wasn’t theirs a commonplace quality? Who among them didn’t have jumbles of similar impressions from the just concluded conflagration?

In essence their lives followed similar general patterns after December 1941. The same can’t be claimed about the cohort of eligible young men – and women – after September 2001. The war America claimed and continues waging on terrorism drew from and still draws from a certain pool.

The selection is not wide-based. The enlistees form a small segment of Americans. A minimal portion of our society is affected.

Unlike earlier conflicts, today’s Americans are far less aware of anyone serving on our nation’s behalf. The public has allowed military service to become a praetorian profession. Can’t really even cover it with the “national defense” fig leaf. But maintaining vague vigilance against and hyping threats allegedly issuing from that thing hiding in the closet or under the bed keeps unnecessary military facilities operational and armaments manufacturers fat and happy. If there are items American taxpayers have been scared into mindlessly purchasing then they are guns at the expense of butter.

Americans ought to have frank discussions about blood and treasure. However, those conversations will remain tabled unless more of our blood is in the mix. We won’t truly treasure it until then.

Wouldn’t Memorial Day observed on its traditional day make us take sharper notice? Maybe if we restore its peculiarity, it’ll regain the importance of the Fourth as well as spare us the platitudes we barely hear on the way to the mattress sale.