There is much to look forward to each year during Memorial Day weekend. For our family the grill is in full use, we enjoyed a beautiful Saturday wedding, spent time with our church family today, and me-and-my buddies will be fly-fishing the pristine Penn’s Creek tomorrow.
But this weekend is much, much more than the celebration of the beginning of summer. There is something ultraserious about tomorrow. And sadly, I believe there are many who have forgotten. It is the confluence of ignorance and insult to not remember the ones who died in our nation’s service.
This past week I stumbled upon such a thing. Watch the video below as Jesse Watters quizzes people on the street to see if they know why Monday is a holiday, and some of the elementary history that goes with it.
VIDEO: Watters’ World: Memorial Day edition via O’Reilly Factor
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website, Memorial Day began soon after the Civil War and was passed by an act of Congress in 1971:
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day.
Memorial Day is a time in which we remember the ultimate sacrifice of our great defenders. It is a weekend in which we should make time to honor all who have died for our country. (BTW: Veterans Day honors the vets of all wars; and Labor Day honors the contributions of American workers).
This weekend I chose to take a favorite D-Day book of mine off the shelf: The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. It has been called a masterpiece of military history, and rightly so—as it retells the wait, the night, and the day of June 6, 1944.
This was the battle that changed the outcome of the war against Nazi Germany. And it is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about what took place on the beaches of Normandy. This was the very first account I ever read of D-Day; and I’m indebted to Dr. Crane out at the US Army War College for his recommendation many moons ago.
In honor of those who gave, as President Lincoln once said, “the last full measure of devotion” to defend their nation—here is an excerpt from the book.1
Never had there been a dawn like this. In the murky, gray light, in majestic, fearful grandeur, the great Allied fleet lay off Normandy’s five invasion beaches. The sea teemed with ships. Battle ensigns snapped in the wind all the way across the horizon from the edge of the Utah area on the Cherbourg peninsula to Sword Beach near the mouth of the Orne.
Outlined against the sky were the big battlewagons, the menacing cruisers, the whippetlike destroyers. Behind them were the squat command ships, sprouting their forests of antennae. And behind them came the convoys of troop-filled transports and landing ships, lying low and sluggish in the water. Circling the lead transports, waiting for the signal to head for the beaches, were swarms of bobbing landing craft, jam-packed with the men who would land in the first waves.
The great spreading mass of ships seethed with noise and activity. Engines throbbed and whined as patrol boats dashed back and forth through the milling assault craft. Windlasses whirred as booms swung out amphibious vehicles. Chains rattled in the davits as assault boats were lowered away.
Landing craft loaded with pallid-faced men shuddered and banged against the high steel sides of transports. Loud-hailers blared out, “Keep in line! Keep in line!” as coastguardsmen shepherded the bobbing assault boats into formations. On the transports men jammed the rails, waiting their turn to climb down slippery ladders or scramble-nets into the heaving, spray-washed beaching craft.
And through it all, over the ships’ public-address systems came a steady flow of messages and exhortations: “Fight to get your troops ashore, fight to save your ships, and if you’ve got any strength left, fight to save yourselves.”
Do you know what tomorrow is? There is a high price to pay for forgetting.
1 Ryan, Cornelius. The Longest Day The Classic Epic of D-Day, June 6, 1944 (New York:Simon & Schuster, 1959). 177-178.