Four years ago I wrote here that Memorial Day weekend has become a four-headed observance/holiday, including not just Memorial Day but a second Veterans Day, plus visits to the graves of family members, the weekend for high school graduations (except in Platteville) and the unofficial start of summer.
(You can read those Memorial Day thoughts at www.swnews4u.com/archives/5483/. Some of those may overlap with these, but if I intended to do that I would copy and paste.)
Few readers probably know that Memorial Day originally was Decoration Day, which was to be May 30 each year to commemorate our Civil War dead. Even fewer probably know that it has only been an official federal holiday (and on the last Monday in May) since 1971, 103 years after the reported first observance, three years after the end of the Civil War.
(More federal holiday trivia for those who, unlike your favorite weekly newspaper editor, won’t be working Monday: The law that moved Memorial Day to Mondays, which was designed to give federal employees three-day weekends, also moved Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day and Veterans Day to Mondays. I’m old enough to remember when Veterans Day was the fourth Monday in October, but that lasted just seven years, until it was moved back to Nov. 11, the original Armistice Day, in 1978. Washington’s Birthday became Presidents Day in the mid-1980s, though interestingly not legally in Wisconsin. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was added to the three-day holidays list in 1983.)
There are those, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who believe Memorial Day should return to May 30 and be replaced as a three-day holiday by moving Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, two days later. The problem with doing that is that there is no assurance Memorial Day won’t become like what Martin Luther King Day is in places where schools are closed — just another day off. You can’t make people recognize a holiday the way you want them to, and I’m not sure given the state of things in this country more days off are what this country really needs.
I don’t have a problem with the concept of an unofficial second Veterans Day either, because it’s better to say what you want to someone (for instance, “Thank you for your service”) while he or she is alive than after that person dies. It appears based on historians’ accounts that veterans fought and died less for such American concepts as the Constitution and the U.S. flag and, first, for their fellow soldiers and, I’d argue, for their family and friends back in the U.S. and the non-wartime way of American life.
The Platteville Memorial Day ceremony I will cover Monday morning (because in addition to work the house’s younger trumpet player will be participating) will be the third memorial ceremony of some sort for me this month. Last week, as you know from reading page 1, I went to the annual Police Memorial Day ceremony in Lancaster. Before that, I went to the memorial service for my uncle, an Air Force and Army veteran, two weekends ago, followed by a stop at my grandparents’ gravesite.
There are a lot of police officers who are also veterans. (That might be obvious from the number of officers with military-style hair.) Though the arenas are different, the common reality of the military and the police — though they are and should be separate, as Sheriff Nate Dreckman pointed out in using the example of Sir Robert Peel, who was basically the creator of modern policing — is that each goes to work with the higher-than-average possibility he or she won’t return from work. (Grant County Deputy Sheriff Tom Reuter, shot to death on patrol in 1990, and Air Force Lt. Col. William Schroeder, whose parents live in this area, are two prominent examples.)
I’m not a veteran (no armed service in this nation’s history has been interested in someone with 20/400 vision), but I can comment on one specific aspect of Memorial Day ceremonies that proves that change and progress are not synonyms. An increasing number of military funerals and Memorial Day ceremonies include “Taps” on an electronic bugle, because apparently it is increasingly difficult to find someone who can play, is available to play or is willing to play. (This is apparently despite the number of middle school and high school bands with trumpet players — that is, all of them. There were live trumpet players at the Police Memorial Day service, along with a bagpipe corps.)
I played “Taps” at a veteran’s funeral several years ago, in the dead of winter, outside. It wasn’t easy (below-freezing temperatures do not agree with brass instruments unless you can somehow replace players’ saliva with antifreeze), and I didn’t think it sounded very good, but it was necessary to honor the service of a fellow church member and World War II veteran. Honoring veterans, living or dead, for their service should be the theme of this weekend.