By Kevin Robinson in Miscellaneous on May 28, 2007 3:17PM
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first commemorated after the Civil War as a way to honor fallen Union soldiers. After World War I it was expanded to honor all men and women who died in a US war or military action. It was originally observed on May 30, but since becoming a federal holiday, is now always observed on the last Monday in May, effectively creating a national three-day weekend.
For many, today marks the unofficial start of summer. Along with picnics and the Indianapolis 500, today is also a day to honor those who gave their lives for our country. Most government offices are closed today, as are many businesses. There is no mail today, and if you are the academic type (or have little ones) schools are closed as well. With flags flying at half-staff and politicians giving speeches, there is also a national moment of remembrance, held at 3PM Eastern time.
Chicagoist always feels a little conflicted at this time of year. We remember our grandfather, who fought in World War II, enlisting at the age of 17, and serving through the European occupation. Although he never really spoke of his time in the military, the significance of the American opposition to global fascism and the fight against genocide was impressed upon us at an early age. At the same time, however, we often find ourselves wondering what he really fought for. We'd like to believe that grandpa was a thoughtful man - a fellow disposed to reflection and reason on the experiences he had in his long life. Certainly we get at least a portion of our progressive tendencies from the Bulgarian steelworker and union leader that opposed the Korean War and Vietnam. In fact, we are certain that his silence on his war experiences was more about his desire to not glorify war, rather than some deeper, more traumatic experience.
As we head out to enjoy a day free of the worries of work and filled with friends and sunshine, we are cognizant of the images in the media of American families at tributes and gravestones, mourning the loss of yet more loved ones in recent conflict. We hope that we live to see the day when Memorial Day will truly be just that - a day not just to commemorate fallen countrymen, but also the end of war and conflict. Perhaps one day our grandchildren will look up at as and ask us why there was ever such a thing as war, why there was ever a need to fight and die in the name of one's country.