It’s time to put ‘memory’ back in Memorial Day

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann  for The Review

By the time you read this column Memorial Day may have passed. Or did it really? When I was growing up Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th whether it was a Monday or not.

In a recent edition of our local paper I found ads for “Memorial Day Sales” for stoves, refrigerators, garden equipment , hardware and automobiles, just to mention a few.

What any of this has to do with the over one million three hundred thousand men and women, who lost their lives in one of our countries many wars since its founding, is beyond me.

It seems that ever since 1968 when congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to specified Mondays to create three day weekends that the significance of the holidays was lost in vacation plans.

Much of what Memorial Day is all about seems to be gone. It’s in many ways just become another three-day holiday. Since 1998 former Senator Daniel Inouye, now deceased, a WWII veteran from Hawaii had repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day but each time it was voted down.

Older residents may recall that Memorial Day in years gone by was often referred to as Decoration Day. It was a day in which the graves of veterans and family members who had passed on were decorated with flowers and flags.

Decoration Day was originally created to honor the Union dead of the Civil War. Records indicate that the first observance of Memorial Day took place in 1865, not in the north as you might suspect but on a race track in Charleston, South Carolina.

The reason this site was chosen was that it was a mass grave for soldiers that died while being held captive in a prisoner of war camp that had formerly occupied this location.

It was in 1868 that the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s organization proclaimed that the holiday would be celebrated nationwide each year on May 30th.

They further proclaimed that the graves of fallen union soldiers would be decorated on this day.

You’ll note that this proclamation specifically states “the graves of union soldiers” were to be decorated and made no mention of Confederate graves.

With the bitterness of the Civil War still fresh in their minds many southern states did not celebrate Memorial Day, which they considered a northern holiday, until after WWI.

In Sheboygan in past years it’s always been a tradition to have a Memorial Day parade and then some sort of religious services after the parade.

A common practice, in years gone by was for the parade to head down 8th Street then west to the middle of Wildwood cemetery and then proceed to a speakers strand which had been erected near a tall flag pole near Sheboygan’s version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Very few people even realize that Sheboygan has a tomb for the Unknown Soldier. The monument was placed there in 1924 and was paid for by local organizations to honor the war dead of all branches of the military.

A flag is flown over the tomb daily to honor those who had their lives taken from theme in one of our countries wars.

Even fewer people are aware of a marker that stands on the northwest corner of Calumet Drive and Geele Avenue that was placed there by an organization known as the Gold Star Mothers which was organized after WWI by mother’s who had lost son’s in that horrific conflict.

Even today young men and women in our military who are stationed in faraway places find themselves in great danger.

In the conflict in Iraq the total number of troops who have had their young lives snatched from them number about 4,600, casualty lists vary making an exact number difficult to come up with.

So far in Afghanistan close to 2,000 lives have been lost. Not to mention the losses in Vietnam, Korea, WW2, WWI, the Spanish American War, the disaster known as the Civil War, The War of 1812, and of course the Revolutionary War. The list goes on and on .

It’s plain to see that the total number of young men and women who lost their lives in one of the above conflicts is an uncounted total of hundreds of thousands.

Is it too much to ask that those who lost their lives should have a day of remembrance set aside just for them, a day for honoring them; not a day which is used to run “specials” on stoves, refrigerators or automobiles.

Unfortunately, there are many who just don’t care when we celebrate Memorial Day just as long as they get an extra day off from work; selfish as it may be.

They forget they already have a day off to “honor” labor. It’s called Labor Day. Please forgive us for editorializing but we feel very strongly about this.

On whichever day you choose to celebrate Memorial Day try to remember the vast number of young people who will never see home again.

Do try to decorate a grave, fly a flag and attend a parade if you can. As for us we will do so on May 30th.

If you have any comments or suggestions for future columns please feel free to contact me at wangemann@yahoo.com or call me at 920- 458-2974


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