Memorial Day Reflections

We have been taught that “freedom isn’t free.” Therefore, we have to “fight” for it. At one time, that might have been true, but IMHO, it’s now mostly just playing “king of the mountain.” But the otherside is that a strong military is a sign of a strong country. The idea that serving in the military is an honor, and we are all led to believe that doing so helps to keep this country free. I’m not sure I agree with that, and I have mixed emotions about the military. And yes, those who join do so as volunteers, but they give up so much to do it, and I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are people as to why they join. But I’m willing to bet that they end up much more damaged than they ever dreamed they would. I think that if the country and people ask (sometimes demand) that people serve in the military, have to leave their homes and families, and are asked to take the lives of others, it’s the least we can do to make sure they have the equipment to do so and the care they need when they return.

Warning: Rant coming. 

I find it ludicrous to expect military personnel to buy and pay for their own equipment to “keep this country free.” If this country wants to invest in a strong military presence for the rest of the world, they need to invest and care for the military personnel. This includes keeping soldiers and sailors safe within their ranks, such as preventing and dealing with sexual assault, mental health issues, and time off between tours of duty. And then provide good health care for wounded personnel so that the military can at least supplement programs like Wounded Warriors. And lastly, make sure returning vets have access to higher education, much like the G-I Bill in the 1940s, job opportunities, and guaranteed housing.

Now back to the background history of Memorial Day:

“From 1868 to 1970, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 (regardless of what day of the week it fell on), but since 1971, is a federal holiday when it was recognized as a holiday by an act of Congress the holiday has been celebrated on the last Monday of May. The day was originally known as Decoration Day, a time to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.   

One of the very first Memorial Day celebrations on record was held by newly freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1865, freed slaves gathered with members of the U.S. Colored Troops to bury and honor fallen Union soldiers. A crowd of 10,000 people formed a parade around an old race track, where they sang hymns and decorated graves.

Before the Civil War ended, women’s groups got together to decorate the graves of the soldiers who had passed away. On April 12, 1886, the Columbus Ladies Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia, announced they would dedicate one day a year to decorating graves as a way to remember fallen soldiers. This was one of many events put on by local Ladies Memorial Associations that eventually led to the federal holiday.

The holiday wasn’t called Memorial Day until 1971: It was known as Decoration Day before that. The very first Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, as the future president James A. Garfield gave a remembrance speech to thousands of onlookers at Arlington National Cemetery. Over the years, the day began to be referred to as Memorial Day, and for consistency’s sake, it was nationally re-named in 1971.

Poppies have long been used to remember fallen soldiers after the bright red flowers began to bloom on World War I battlefields following the end of the war. Originally a symbol used to honor British soldiers who died in World War I, the flower also became associated with Memorial Day in 1915 when Moina Michael, a Georgia teacher and wartime volunteer, penned the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” as part of a campaign to make poppies a national symbol of remembrance.”

I have had several family members who served in various wars; some came home, some died in battle.

My 5th great-grandfather, Capt Abel Curtis, served in the French-Indian War (1755) and the Revolutionary War (1776). He came home to his wife, Freelove, and their nine children.

My 3rd great-grandfather, David Ransom, died at Corinth, Mississippi, during the Civil War, and he is buried there. He was a private in 11th Calvary in the Union Army out of Illinois, which surprised me because he was born in Kentucky. But he had moved to Illinois prior to 1838, where he married and raised four daughters. He was just 48 when he died.

My grandfather, Albert Baas, served in France during World War 1. He was a private in Company B 19TH Machine Gun Battalion. During World War 2, he was drafted and deployed to Seattle, where he worked for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and Associated Shipbuilders in Seattle, where he helped make warships. After the war, he worked for the railroad.

My dad enlisted in the Marines after World War 2 because he was too young to join during the war.

I had many friends who were drafted for the Vietnam War and a few who enlisted. They ended up making the military their career until they retired. Those who were drafted came home very messed up, either damaged emotionally or physically if they came home at all.

While “Memorial Day observes those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, while Veterans Day, celebrated annually on November 11, honors those who have served or are serving”, I prefer to honor both on both days. After the reception the Vietnam Vets got or didn’t get, I feel we owe them badly.

Military factions have existed, probably since the beginning of time, when powerful kings and dictators realized they could enlist large groups of people to invade and pillage. Not much has changed over time.

Some of the details for this article came from:

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