Do we really need Memorial Day and Veterans Day every year? Every May we drag out the flags for the front of the house and go to our local Memorial Day ceremony and parade. School kids have programs at school and some even assist local veterans in decorating the graves of deceased veterans buried in cemeteries across the nation. We look forward to Memorial Day as the beginning of the summer season but down deep we know its importance and what Veterans mean to us. What a lot us don’t know is why on November 11 we seem called upon to do all the same things as if Memorial Day was a dress rehearsal for the real deal , Veterans Day. Now everyone is glad for the day off, but still each year when we celebrate Memorial Day in May, come November there will be lots of people scratching their heads and wondering do we really need to celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day? It’s a fair question deserving of a reasoned answer.
Memorial, the Oldest Veterans Holiday. After the horror of the American Civil war in which thousands of soldiers from the North and the South lost their lives, it was determined that Americans would celebrate a special holiday known first as Decoration Day. On that day special tribute would be paid to those who lost their lives in service to America. For many years Decoration Day was celebrated only in relation to the Civil War, but in the Twentieth Century the nation lost more men and women who served in World War I , World War II , the Korean War , Vietnam and scores of lesser known conflicts right up to the present Iraq War.
Decoration Day has grown in the number of deceased service men and women it celebrates and its new name, Memorial Day indicates that it is no longer just a day to Decorate graves of those honored but to more fully memorialize them with ceremonies, parades and other public events. Memorial Day is celebrated in the United States each year in May. The exact date has varied over the years , it is now customary in many states to celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May.
Veterans Day, the most inclusive . After World War I, in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the celebration of a new holiday to mark the day, November 11, 1918, upon which an Armistice was struck among combatants ending four years of colossal bloodshed and loss of life. In the United States November 11 was celebrated as Armistice Day. Wilson saw it as a way to remind all Americans of just how terrible war really was, with the hopes that this knowledge would keep us all from taking steps towards war ever again.
In 1938, possibly because of the imminent threat of a second World War looming, the Congress of the United States declared Armistice Day a federal holiday, which closed federal buildings throughout the nation on November 11 each year.
Unfortunately the memory inspired by Armistice Day was not sufficient to keep us free from war. From 1941 until our present involvement in the Iraq War, American men and women have continued to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to serve their nation in time of war. We continue to celebrate November 11 but we have expanded its meaning. In 1954 Congress declared that Armistice Day would now be celebrated as Veterans day and would be used to honor all veterans who have served their nation in uniform. We have not forgotten the sacrifice of all those who served in World War I or Woodrow Wilson’s hope that in considering war we would work towards peace. But instead of merely celebrating a single armistice we have determined to call the day Veterans Day and to use that day to give our thanks and support to all veterans living, dead, pow and mia.
Why Two Holidays. In 2007 our history has left us with the unusual problem of having two national holidays which, though created at different times and initially for different reasons, have over time morphed into two holidays separated by death. Put in its simplest terms, Memorial Day is a commemoration of those who died in battle for their country. Veterans Day is dedicated to every man or woman who has worn the uniform of the United States regardless of the degree of suffering or sacrifice.
Do we really need two holidays set aside each year to address the issue of memorializing those who have served. Some would surely say , ” a veteran is a veteran”. After all any person who wears the uniform has committed to fight for their country and to defend us as a people. In that commitment they squarely face the possibility that some service men and women may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice and to forfeit their lives for their country. Not everyone has to face that total sacrifice but all face the possibility.
In the wearing of the uniform there is a brotherhood that is formed not because some die but because all have in some way put themselves on the line for their country. Many would say it is this depth of commitment, not what incidentally happens to some along the way that marks veterans and brands them equally. For those who accept this position, then one Veterans Day truly should be enough.
Done properly, either Veterans Day or Memorial Day could be used to simply and sincerely remember all veterans who have stood by their nation in time of peace or war regardless of whether or not they lost their lives, were pow/mia’s , were injured or spent their enlistment behind a desk. All those who have been united by the uniform might also be united by one celebration and we could all stop wondering why we need two holidays each year to celebrate our honest support and gratitude to American Veterans.
Not Likely, It sounds reasonable. With a little fine tuning it could work except for these minor roadblocks. Do you know anyone who could have two birthdays but decided to just go ahead and have one? Probably not. In the same way it is unlikely that a group that currently has two celebrations scheduled for them each year is going to be willing, without a fight, to simply give up the two celebrations and replace them with one? . As long as Veterans are content with celebrating two different but somehow amazingly similar events, it will be extremely difficult to economize on holidays and go to one.
Second changing a federal holiday would require congressional action. In a nation where it seems every year is an election year, or approaching an election year, how likely is it that individual members of congress will stand up and vote to reduce the amount of recognition given to Veterans from two days to one. Congressmen know that Veterans vote. Moving a law through Congress to reduce the number of days assigned to honoring Veterans from 2 to 1 just isn’t apt to fly.
Third, we are in the middle of a deadly and seemingly endless war in Iraq. There are lots of people who have lost relatives in that struggle and many who still have relatives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who wants to suggest that now would be a good time to reduce the amount of tribute we are willing to pay to those who have committed and in some cases given their very lives so that we all can go on living in the manner to which we have become accustomed.
Finally, there is something about human beings that just loves a holiday. They may not always know who or what they are celebrating as in the case of the confusion that arises for some between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but they know a holiday when they see one. The very last thing people want to dispense with is an opportunity for day to enjoy staying home with family, hanging out with friends, taking off on a long weekend or just plain not going to work.
In the United States holidays are almost an art form. So even though they may continue to scratch their heads or raise their eyebrows over two holidays that seem to celebrate almost the same thing, you aren’t likely to find too many Americans demanding an end to one so that we can all get back to work. It’s safe to say, Veterans Day and Memorial Day are in the books and they’re not going anywhere, anytime soon.