I never knew this holiday we now call Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, was first enacted by formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars. The day was to mark a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War and in 1868 a proclamation was issued that “Decoration Day” should be observed nationwide. May 30 was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any battle. By the early 20th century it was a day of more general expressions of memory to all who had died, whether they served in the military or not. In 1971 Congress turned Memorial Day into a mandatory three-day weekend with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363), and made it all the easier for us to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day.
Today, Jake and I took an early morning stroll to River Street with the express purpose to find the bricks we had purchased in support of the Veteran’s Council of Chatham County’s WW2 Memorial project in remembrance of veterans who served in the war that “split the world into two global conflicts.” We approached down River Street from the east when the sun was just beginning to light the sky. Jake traversed the globe clockwise while I traveled in the opposite direction. We were scanning hundreds of bricks in search of my father’s name and the brick for Azalea Inn and Gardens. It wasn’t very long before I slowed and began actually reading the bricks and remembering: in memory of the 82nd Airborne Division, 821st MP Co, 583 Signal Corp Bat, the individuals and the strings of family names, bricks laid side by side in honor of the men and women who fought this “last great war”.
I found Azalea Inn and Gardens about a quarter of the way through my section at the northern entrance to the memorial and several rows later the brick of John J. Scott, Jr., my father. I was pleased to find them so close together though certainly I had purchased them at different times as if someone knew that these two were connected. My dad served first in the Navy in the European-African-Middle Eastern campaign and at the very close of the war he re-enlisted in the Army-Air Corp and was stationed at Orly Field in France during the Paris Peace talks. He went on to complete 20 years of service in the USAF.
In respect and remembrance of all who have given their lives to ensure that we have the freedom to forget to salute our flag, to place our hand over our hearts in allegiance, to spit at the feet of those who have returned from unpopular wars, to burn our flag, to think differently, look different, act different, speak with different accents, come from different places – today at 3:00 p.m. pause to reflect on the sacrifice of others in this national day of remembrance.