Saturday, May 24, 2008

They May Play "Taps"

In my childhood, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week. Now, in the interest of a long three-day weekend to begin the summer, it is the last Monday in May. Originally called Decoration Day, it was to remember those who have died in our nation's service. Before the end of the Civil War, groups of women in the South organized and decorated the graves of their fallen. Union Army General John Logan ordered Memorial Day observance on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, a commemoration continued there today with small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 Arlington burial sites. Several southern states still have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.

Memorial Day 2008, Monday, there will be ceremonies at the final resting places of those who gave what Lincoln called, the "last full measure." Drop by one near you. They may play "Taps." Take a handkerchief, just in case. Other celebrations include picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events, such as baseball double-headers, and the Indianapolis 500. Before $4 a gallon gasoline in the United States, heavy highway vacation driving began on Memorial Day weekend, as did nationwide "Click It or Ticket" campaigns. Some feel that when Congress lumped Memorial Day into a three-day weekend, the special significance of Memorial Day was diluted. “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day," according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a decorated World War II veteran, who lost his arm in combat in Italy, has introduced legislation repeatedly since 1987 to return Memorial Day to its traditional day.

Some people confuse Memorial Day, which remembers those who have died in U.S. military service, with Veterans Day, which honors all those who have served the U.S. in the military. The total number who have died in service to their country is much smaller than the total number of those who have served. This is a significant recruitment tool. Nonetheless, veterans who have survived their U.S. military service in the past have been recognized through GI Bills, providing national gratitude in the form of education benefits and home loans. Several generations of American veterans have the GI Bill to thank for job training, college educations, and home ownership. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has sponsored a post-9/11 GI Bill, currently under consideration in Congress, for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Webb, a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Vietnam, where he served as a rifle platoon commander and was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, is a former Republican. President Bush, a veteran of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era, and Sen. John McCain, presumptive Republican Presidential nominee and much-decorated former U.S. Navy pilot and P.O.W. in Vietnam, inexplicably do not support the Iraq-Afghanistan GI Bill, only the wars. Sen. Webb is often mentioned as a possible pick by Sen. Barack Obama to run as his Vice President. I mention it every chance I get.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter

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