Memorial Day—Rolling Thunder and Beyond
When I began this blog, I promised…who? myself mostly, a few friends, family that I would post once a month. Most of the months I’m burrowing away on fiction, on the long process of writing a novel–writing, rewriting, thinking, rethinking. It is a different discipline to pull away from that marathon of 400+ pages and sprint to the end of the block with 4-600 words that have some cohesion and at least one idea worth passing on. I tend to put off this arbitrary deadline till the very end of the month.
So…this is a rather long throat-clearing on Memorial Day, a hot, steamy day in Washington, a day with the sun full and unobstructed in a clear blue sky. I’ve finished my fiction writing and now have the remainder of the afternoon to write May’s blog post. This space often focuses on issues abroad, but today I’d like to focus on Memorial Day, a time in Washington when Rolling Thunder motorcycle bikers roar through the streets to memorialize Vietnam and all vets and where flags fly at half mast to honor those who have died in wars.
Memorial Day was perhaps first celebrated in the U.S. in 1865, right after the American Civil War by freed African slaves in South Carolina at the grave site of Union soldiers. The African Americans honored the Union soldiers who fought to help win their freedom. Originally called “Decoration Day,” the event was declared a national observance in 1868 with a date specifically set that was not the anniversary of a battle. Both North and South had lost hundreds of thousands of men in the Civil War, but by the end of the next decade the national memorial observances honored those from both the Blue and Gray states.
The honoring of veterans who have given their lives in war through the centuries is an occasion, solemn and celebratory with speeches, politics, picnics and some reflection. As the U.S. begins pulling out of war zones, it is also a time to consider what journey we have been on–where it is yet going, where it has taken us and where it has taken others outside our borders. War cannot be completely bound by borders nor by time frames for war impacts history and the future of us all.
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David Blight wrote an editorial in the NYT yesterday on the first Memorial Day you referenced in your blog. I have been listening to his course at Yale on the Civil War via “I tunes U” for the past five weekend or so (my own way of commemorating the 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter). He is amazing…nearly a whole class focusing on reconstruction, was about the first Memorial Day. He actually found out about it going through random documents at Harvard.