Memorial Day is coming net week, on Monday, May 26.
Veterans Day is also coming, on Nov. 11, much later on this year.
These two holidays, while having a somewhat similar purpose in that they honor people from the military, they are actually vastly different with unique goals all their own. Yet they are the commonly confused American holidays. However, they are key holidays in our Sun Region, where much of our history and culture was carved out of being in the presence of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and the Joint Forces Training Base and Army Airfield in Los Alamitos.
A close look at our local history tells us that many of the young men and women who passed through this area during World War II, either to serve in the military and/or be deployed ended up returning.
Since Memorial Day will be here sooner than later, we’ll discuss its role first. In a nutshell: Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.
While it was originally called “Decoration Day,” there is a bevy of mystery to its actual beginning. Many American cities and towns have tried to take credit for it over the years. One of the more interesting theories is that is actually began during the Civil War – in the South! It may have grown out of southern women decorating the graves of their men who died in battle.
Regardless of its actual genesis – and some say it actually sprang up in various locations around the same era, President Lyndon Johnson made it an official American holiday in May of 1966 in Waterloo, New York.
However, even if it did begin in the rebellious southern states, Memorial Day is not about separation; it’s about coming together as a people to honor those who gave the last measure of their being so that all the rest of us might live in a free country.
In fact, the first Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
The observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Meanwhile, many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day–thus the confusion over it and Veterans Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored. Many older veterans complain that most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on December 2000. It asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to “Taps.”
Veterans Day, on the other hand, that “other” day when we remember sacrifice to our country, is a bit more general. It honors all who have served in the military – not specifically ones who have died during that service. In fact, Veterans Day was actually meant to honor people who serve or have served in the military while they are living.
Veterans Day grew out of Armistice Day that was on Nov. 11 and honored the end of World War I.
The first Veterans Day parade on record was held Nov. 11, 1947. It was organized by Raymond Weeks, of Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, and called upon Americans everywhere to rededicate themselves to the cause of peace.
Although the date was changed at one time, it was changed back to Nov. 11 by an act of Congress in 1978.
Dennis Kaiser is the editor of the Sun Newspapers.