Memorial Day (or Decoration Day to revert to its original name) is today. In 2013, we have added many, too many, names to the list of those who have died in service to this great nation. Say a prayer, take a moment, or perform some act of honor today for those who have sacrificed to serve.
Memorial Day started with official recognition by the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5, 1868 to honor both the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The Civil War, the pivotal, bloody, divisive War Between the States. The War which tested our young nation to the very brink of disaster with neighbor fighting neighbor. The War which ultimately made us a stronger collective people, one bound together despite our flaws and differences. After its inception, the concept of a Decoration Day spread across the country, although the former Confederate states in the south refused to join with the “northern” celebration and kept their memorial separate until around the time of World War I (Some wounds heal more slow, I guess).
Today, on this Memorial Day, let us, as this nation’s collective people, reflect upon the origins of this holiday and remember. Let us honor our past by exhibiting in our personal, political, and professional lives the ideal that we are a stronger, collective people bound together despite our flaws and differences and striving to honor those we remember on Memorial Day.
For Memorial Day 2013, a re-posting of the story behind the founding of Arlington National Cemetery.
The Beginnings of Arlington National Cemetery
Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs appropriated land around Arlington House from its owner Gen. Robert E. Lee in June 1864 for use as Arlington National Cemetery. General Meigs wanted to make Arlington House uninhabitable for the Lee family by placing Union soldier’s graves right to the front porch. In his excellent documentary, The Civil War, filmmaker Ken Burns adds that General Meigs had previously lost his son, a Union soldier, in battle against Lee led forces and the appropriation of Lee’s land was particularly satisfying to the Quartermaster General.
I have only seen Arlington by photo or film. It is a place I must visit before I die. My daughter has been there on a school group trip led by my good friends, and excellent teachers, the Lane Brothers. She loved Arlington and everything about Washington, DC. Coach Lane once gave me a football scout VCR tape, on which at the very end of the tape was copied the film he took of the changing of the guard at the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier. I still have that tape safely stored away. Incredible. Solemn. Beautiful.