John A. Logan, famous American General during the Mexican American War and the father of Memorial Day, once said “Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided Republic.” To honor the soldiers and their sacrifice the first Memorial Day, then called Decoration Day, was conducted in 1868 on May 30th, chosen because it was not the day of a battle during the civil war.
These first Memorial Days both in the North and South, by all historical accounts, were somber occasions for families and friends to remember their loved ones. Services were simple and the theme of the day was remembrance. The day was chosen as May 30th because it retained significance as a day of peace during what would become the bloodiest conflict in American history.
This all changed on June 7th, 1968 when the Federal Government passed the Uniform Holiday’s Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates, to a specified Monday creating a three day weekend. Memorial Day was one of them, and was moved from the traditional May 30th, a date of importance, to the last Monday in May. This was the beginning of the end for the traditional Memorial Day as a day of remembrance. As the VFW said in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
I could not agree with the VFW’s categorization of Memorial Day more strongly. A day once reserved for tradition and honor, for the linking of generations, has over time been corrupted so as to dilute the significance of the Memorial Day holiday. A three day weekend harkening the start of summer, barbeques, and special sale promotions at the mall, all compete for the attention of our citizenry for the meaning of the day.
For this reason I have co-sponsored Senate Bill 1826, reinstituting our old Blue Law closure for Memorial Day only. As politicians and elected officials, we often invoke the specter of remembrance for our war dead and their families; we say how important it is to remember their sacrifices to honor their service, we then conclude our speeches and the few who attend these ceremonies leave, and Memorial Day is over to be forgotten for another year.
That is not the ceremony I want for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for my freedom. This Memorial Day please remember General John A. Logan and all the men and women who in the service of their country gave their lives, and remember what this day used to be about, not what it has become.