I'm not going to tell you the difference between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. I've done that in years past. These days it seems like more of a "lecture" to do.
What I will do is share a little history on the day that some people may not be aware of.
Memorial Day originally started in 1868 as "Decoration Day." General John Logan (Republic/Union) made a proclamation to honor Civil War veterans who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”
The first large observance was at Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 observers decorated the resting places of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Various other cities make claim to creating the idea, and, actually observing honoring fallen heroes starting in 1866.
May 30th was the official observed day until 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which changed it to the last Monday in May. The law went into effect in 1971. This created the three-day weekend that we unofficially use as a calendar event marking the unofficial beginning of Summer.
While I'm writing with the intent of helping others learn, I have heard questions regarding something else that is not specifically related to Memorial Day, but, is somewhat recent, and, more than a few people have been asking about. Others admit to being embarrassed for not knowing about it's symbolism and are hesitant to ask.
You may run across a decorated table resembling the picture of the one I took below located at Milwaukee's War Memorial Building:
This is known as the "Missing Man Table":
The white tablecloth draped over the table represents the purity of their response to our country’s call to arms.
The empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, but all who are not here with us.
The table itself is round to show that our concern for them is never ending.
The Bible represents faith in a higher power and the pledge to our country, founded as one nation under God.
The black napkin stands for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends. A Purple Heart medal can be pinned to the napkin.
The single red rose reminds us of their families and loved ones. The red ribbon represents the love of our country, which inspired them to answer the nation’s call.
The candle and ribbon symbolize the everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those yet accounted for.
The slices of lemon on the bread plate remind us of their bitter fate.
The salt upon the bread plate represent the tears of their families.
The wine glass, turned upside down, reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the evening.
Lastly a few personal thoughts on Memorial Day.
Veterans don't feel like they are better than anyone else. We really don't want to be placed up on a pedestal and worshipped. Among ourselves, we understand what it felt like to volunteer to give up some of our prime years. We know the feeling of returning after years of Service only to be boldly reminded that our hometowns were not put on pause while we Served. Life for our friends and family went on. When we returned to civilian life, we had to adjust to the changes that took place while we were gone. Friends got married. Some moved. A few passed on.
Life happened. We had to catch up. Some spend the rest of their lives trying to catch up.
While I wrote that we don't want to be idolized, we do take offense if you put any one of us down. I don't want people to endlessly thank me for enlisting, but, I would love for you to thank another vet for the sacrifices that they made. Veteran issues are never about ME.
Never. It's always about "us".
Being a Veteran to me is the most unselfish thing that any human being can do to Serve not just a country - but those in it. What we did was to ensure that those who didn't feel as we did could continue their normal lives without interruption. We did so while being paid poverty wages often in conditions that had to be experienced to be realized. (or believed)
We didn't do it just for ourselves. We did it for you. We did it for your families.
Most of us returned, but, too many did not. Memorial Day is for those who did not. On this day Veterans remember those who were killed that we broke bread with. We remember seeing pictures of their families. We remember admitting secrets. We remember getting drunk together. We remember overhearing phone calls arguing about what the husband/wife was doing to make being apart more of a living Hell. We remember experiencing Hell together. When we return home, we remember - all of it.
Vets don't expect you to enlist. We just very humbly ask that you try to understand why we did what we did. We ask that you accept us back into a normal world while trying to understand that we are adjusting from a trip to Hell. We ask now that we're home - you join us and help us to look after each other.
We had your back - please have ours. Please help us honor those that we were unable to bring home with us so that they could try to "catch up" with their loved ones. Celebrate freedom, but remember the sacrifice.