By Mark J Landry
The American calendar is full of days to honor different aspects of the American institution. We have: a day to honor presidents; a day to honor a man that open the nation’s eyes to civil rights; a day to honor the flag; a day to honor those who labor; a day to honor the constitution; and birth of the nation; a day to honor veterans of war; and days to remember national tragedies, but in a calendar filled with American holidays there is one day that stands out as the holiest of them all, Memorial Day.
Memorial Day began life as Decoration Day during the greatest test of the idea of America, the Civil War. Decoration Day’s origins began in the South with freed Black American families decorating the graves of Union soldiers, both Black and White, that sacrificed their lives to preserve America as a whole nation and to free those held in bondage. As the Civil War continued, the practice migrated from the South to all parts of the Nation. After the Civil War, Decoration Day was observed in May according to local traditions, and as the years when by the name of the holiday gradually changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day”, where it was first used in 1882. But it was not until 1971 when “Memorial Day” was made a federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May.
When asking the average American the more important American holiday, most would answer The 4th of July. Yes, the 4th of is very important since it is the day America’s Founding Fathers put forth the foundation of the nation in the form of the Declaration of Independence. But America was not an independence nation on July 4 1776, when John Hancock first signed the newly adopted declaration nor was it independence on August 2, 1776 when the other fifty-five delegates signed. America’s true independence day is October 19, 1781, when Lord General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his sword at Yorktown, Virginia -five years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, and ended on September 3, 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.
Within the eight years and 137 days of the American Revolutionary War over 25,000 American [colonist] fought and died for the idea of America –for just the idea. Without the sacrifice of the 35,000 in the Continental Army and the 44,500 in the colonial militias ,including the 25,000 that died, the Declaration of Independence would be nothing more then well-worded poses on a sheet of parchment. All of American’s institutions would be nothing more then well-worded poses if not for the sacrifice of those that fought and died defending for the ideas imposed upon those institutions. While American’s institutions are written in ink, they may as well be written in blood, because blood is the cost of every letter of every word in every American institution.
Memorial Day, even with its commercialization as the beginning of Summer, is the day we as Americans honor the men and women that fought and died for the idea of America and the institutions thereof. Just as Christians observe Good Friday as the Holy day in which Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind, we as Americans must observe Memorial Day as a Holy day to honor those that sacrificed themselves for the idea of America. From the first shot of the American revolution at Lexington and Concord, to: the blood-soaked fields of Antietam and Gettysburg in the Civil War; the defense of America in French trenches in World War I; the beaches of Normandy and mountains of Iwo Jima of World War II; the rice fields of Vietnam; the sands of Iraq, and mountains of Afghanistan; the bravest Americans -no matter age, sex, race, religion,or creed- made the ultimate sacrifice for the belief, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and to guarantee that every American will be born free and will die free.