Monday, May 25, 2009

On Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the civil war), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action. [source]
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is for honoring those who died in service. It is often confused with Veterans Day, which is observed on November 11, and is for honoring all who have served, including those who died in and out of service, but also those veterans still living.

Both are American holidays in such that they are intended for honoring America's veterans and casualties of war. Though it seems natural to remember our ancestors on these days who served their respective nations honorably.

Last year on Memorial Day I posted the cartoon on the left by John T. McCutcheon - published circa 1900; I also mentioned my Great Uncle Mandell, as he is my closest relative who died in military service, and I mused about whether or not I really do have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War and American Revolution as family lore suggested.

Today in another entry I transcribe a few pages of my Great Uncle Mandell's war journal containing a list of his 'war buddies'. Below is his tombstone at United Hebrew Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.

Finally, I'd like to share a short work of prose by Walt Whitman

Unnamed Remains the Bravest Soldier - by Walt Whitman (From 'Specimen Days')

OF scenes like these, I say, who writes—whoe’er can write the story? Of many a score—aye, thousands, north and south, of unwrit heroes, unknown heroisms, incredible, impromptu, first-class desperations—who tells? No history ever—no poem sings, no music sounds, those bravest men of all—those deeds. No formal general’s report, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, north or south, east or west. Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers. Our manliest—our boys—our hardy darlings; no picture gives them. Likely, the typic one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands,) crawls aside to some bush-clump, or ferny tuft, on receiving his death-shot—there sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass and soil, with red blood—the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by—and there, haply with pain and suffering (yet less, far less, than is supposed,) the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him—the eyes glaze in death—none recks—perhaps the burial-squads, in truce, a week afterwards, search not the secluded spot—and there, at last, the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown.

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