“In America, you don’t fight because you hate what is in front of you. You fight because you love what’s behind you.” Pete Hegseth, May 27, 2017
A Memorial Day post dedicated to Etienne Murphy and all the men and women who died in all the U.S. wars. Army Specialist Etienne Murphy, of B Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Rangers was killed in a vehicle rollover on May 26, 2017, in Syria. According to the This Ain’t Hell blog, “Murphy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and enlisted in the
Army from his hometown of Snellville, Georgia, in June 2013, according to USASOC. After training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Murphy served in 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, at Fort Drum, New York. In October 2015, Murphy volunteered to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, successfully completing airborne school and Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1.” Army Specialist Murphy leaves behind a wife and two small children. And, there are millions of men and women like Army Specialist Murphy buried around the world. America’s global footprint in not in lands conquered, it is in the dead we left fighting for others’ freedom.
American families are, in general, proud of the service of their members. Our family members served in every major conflict, including the Revolutionary War and both sides of the Civil War. We’ve attended Memorial Day parades and stood in silence; awed by
the sheer weight of the number of wars represented. We’ve assisted VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) chapters placing tiny flags at the gravesides of veterans; our laughter stilled by the sheer number of veterans who’ve gone before. Grieving widows and widowers attending to the graves of their loved ones etch unforgettable images onto our brain. The realization that the millions of individual veteran’s stories silenced by death are our history sobers thoughts of laughter, swimming, and the barbecue to come later. Then again, the laughter, swimming, and barbecue is why they fought, is it not?
It took a while to get the U.S. Memorial Day act together. In 1966, President Johnson finally executed a 1950 Congressional joint resolution defining the date, time, and purpose of Memorial Day.
“…The Congress, in a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950 (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period during each such day when the people of the United States might unite in such supplication:
Now, Therefore, I, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 1966, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at eleven o’clock in the morning of that day as a time to unite in such prayer….”
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
And so it was that Waterloo, New York became the birthplace of Memorial Day as we know it. Johnson’s Proclamation pointed out that“…On this Memorial Day, as we honor the memory of brave men who have borne our colors in war, we pray to God for His mercy. We pray for the wisdom to find a way to end this struggle of nation against nation, of brother against brother. We pray that soon we may begin to build the only true memorial to man’s valor in war–a sane and hopeful environment for the generations to Come….” On the cusp of 2017’s Memorial Day, not much has changed except the fields of battle and the names.
Kudos to President Johnson and his staff. Defining a birthplace for Memorial Day can’t have been politically easy; decorating graves is embedded into Western Culture. Waterloo, New York was a good place. The Waterloo website points out “The story of Memorial Day begins in the summer of 1865, when a prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves. Nothing resulted from this suggestion until he advanced the idea again the following spring to General John B. Murray. Murray, a civil war hero and intensely patriotic, supported the idea wholeheartedly and marshaled veterans’ support. Plans were developed for a complete celebration by a local citizens’ committee headed by Welles and Murray. On May 5, 1866, the Village was decorated with flags at half-mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies, and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the strains of martial music to the three village cemeteries. There, impressive ceremonies were held and soldiers’ graves decorated. One year later, on May 5, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated. In 1868, Waterloo joined with other communities in holding their observance on May 30th, y General Logan’s orders. It has been held annually ever since….”
Decorating graves of those who died in battle began in earnest following the Civil War. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs highlights the ‘who’s first’ discussion. “…Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well….”
Memorial Day 2017 is poignant considering the actions of those women decorating Union gravestones so long ago. Today there is a movement afoot to erase the Civil War, its history, and its impact on the American story. Whether the Civil War erupted over States’ rights or slavery or partition is not the issue. The result was that the sacrifice of millions of families and the most terrible loss of life ever in U.S. warfare moved the moral arc farther than any other war in U.S. history following the Revolutionary War. Not acknowledging Civil War history and re-writing it to suit current political agendas is to lose the lessons paid for in blood and reduces the texture of what it means to be an American.
May each of you enjoy a wonderful Memorial Day weekend by commemorating those who gave their lives for our freedom. Laugh, play, enjoy! It’s why they fought in the first place.