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Memorial Day: War and Remembrance

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As a retired U. S. Navy veteran, I have a little bit to say around this topic. :)


I can't explain it any better than how historian and Harvard president Drew Bilpin Faust has done in today's edition of "Parade Magazine:"


"Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War-a time of unprecedented loss and nationwide mourning."



A coin I used to own.


It's the unofficial start of summer [and a traditional long weekend of backyard barbecue and fun), but Memorial Day means much more, as historian and Harvard president Drew Bilpin Faust reminds us in her book This Republic of Suffering and the subsequent PBS documentary Death and the Civil War, we asked her about the very first Memorial Day.-Joe Kita


Decoration Day, as it was originally called, was established in 1868. It grew out of the Civil War?


It did. Just in the past year or so, estimates for the number of individuals killed in the Civil War have risen from 620,000 to 750,000, which is more than in all other American wars combined. In terms of the U.S. population today, that would be 2 to 2.5 percent, or 6 to more than 7 million dead. So the title of my book, the phrase "republic of suffering," represents the extraordinary level of loss that was both individual and national.


How did Memorial Day arise?


There are at least 12 towns across the nation that claim they introduced it. Warrenton, Virginia, talks about doing so as early as 1861. Theres a sign in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, saying that in 1864 it started here. Ans there's a marvelous story from Charleston, South Carolina, about a Memorial Day in 1865 when African-Americans honored the Union dead with celebrations and flowers. What's striking is how everybody everywhere felt the need for a moment of reflection, so I like to think of Memorial Day as being created together by a nation rather than a single town or individual. You have to remember that probably half the Civil War dead were never identified because there were no dog tags or official next-of-kin notifications. It was a shared loss in the sense that so many dead belonged to everyone because they weren't identified as belonging to any single one.




These were also not the kinds of deaths that society believed were appropriate at the time. They were gruesome and happened far from home. Death without dignity imperiled the meaning of the life that preceded it, so a day for memorial was meant to restore the dignity of those lives, underscore the contributions that had been made, and in some way ratify how important the courage and sacrifice had been, It was an important part of the nations's mourning.


Have American's today lost the "memorial" in Memorial Day?


I'm not sure we spend enough time looking at the purpose of any of our national holidays. I would hope on Memorial Day, however, that we would take at lease a little time to think about what it meant to be an American back then, undertaking those sacrifices for the common good.


How can a parent or grandparent impress upon a child the significance of this day?


Pick a Civil War soldier and research him online. It could be a general or a soldier, but find out what that person did and what his life involved. Make it real.


My personal reflections are this:


Honor, Courage and Commitment were my theme. I served aboard the USS Saratoga (ship is now retired) during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. A normal cruise time is six month's. This deployment lasted 7 1/2 month's. We set the record for transits thru the Suez Canal. Time spent ashore was very minimal as well as time to call home. I had three young daughter's that needed me as well as my needing them.


What most people fail to understand is that a crew has to be trained prior to deploying. That meant weeks, or months, gone at a time before leaving for 7 1/2 months. That is a huge burden on a spouse and children.


I wish to say that I am proud to have served and pray for all those who have served and are still serving today!


Join me in wishing them a safe return home and that their personal lives will weather "The Storm," for mine did not.




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