William R. Forstchen: A Tale of Two Americas On Memorial Day 2010

Roundup: Talking About History

[William R. Forstchen is a professor of history at Montreat College and is a specialist in military history. He has co-authored seven books with Newt Gingrich, the latest “To Try Men’s Souls” about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. He is also the author of “One Second After,” a novel warning about the dangers of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) attack on the United States.]

Memorial Day. Those of us old enough to remember might recall a parent or grandparent who referred to it as “Decoration Day.” We might recall as well that “Memorial Day,” was not on the last Monday in May, serving as an endcap for a three day weekend of sales and vacations, but instead was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week that was.

It started shortly after the Civil War when General Logan, who was part of the forces occupying the South, supposedly observed Southern women laying spring flowers on the graves of both Confederate and Union dead. Logan wrote of it, urged a national day of commemoration and thus “Decoration Day” became a tradition in nearly all states.

After World War One, the fallen of that conflict became part of the memorial services as well.

After World War Two, with hundreds of thousands of new graves to tend, the tradition evolved that “Decoration Day,” would be a day of national commemoration for those who gave “the last full measure of devotion,” and that “Armistice Day,” November 11, would become a day of honoring all veterans who served.

And thus it was until 1971 when Congress, creating three day weekends for government employees, including themselves, reordered Memorial Day to the last Monday of the month....

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