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To Preserve These United States
May 27, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
I took an extended holiday over Memorial Day and despite observances, speeches, and parades even a casual observer could hardly escape the conclusion that the day was actually a harbinger of summer vacation. There is nothing amiss with family gatherings—holidays—we probably should assemble more often. However, Americans have become so casual in our understanding of history and so careless in the use of our language that we are at risk of diminishing, or even changing, the very events we attempt to memorialize.
In our 230 plus years the United States has aided and abetted in many wars but we have only been directly engaged in a handful of wars. Our country was created by its founding documents and the Union was established by a Revolutionary War, but since then the sovereignty of the United States has only been challenged once. Obviously every man and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice died in service to their country, however, not every soldier that laid down his life died to save the United States, to save America.
Although the White House was burned by the British and the Star Spangled Banner penned after the battle of Baltimore control and occupation of the United States was hardly at issue. Neither was America’s existence threatened by World War I, that war was “over there.” Neither Germany nor Japan could have conquered the United States during World War II; our sovereignty was not at stake. We entered both wars to save Europe, not all of Europe, but some of Europe and to prevent the Japanese from conquering much of Asia. The forgotten war, the Korean War, contained the spread of communism but neither the loss of 38,000 Americans and billions of dollars spent on a stalemated war kept the United States from a similar experience in Vietnam. Regardless of the threat to our sovereignty Americans always answer the call to service--family separation--death and that can never be ignored.
However, the Civil War did threaten the sovereignty of the United States and was a war that came dangerously close to shattering the Union. Imagine what North America would look like today if the Confederacy had won the war or even more likely fought to a stalemate. There isn’t much discussion about that today, but even in victory Abraham Lincoln saw and felt the importance of preserving the Union in tact.
On 5 May 1868 General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of The Republic signed General Order 11 that established Memorial Day. So important was the preservation of the Union that decoration day was first observed 30 May 1868 by placing flowers on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers alike buried in the National Cemetery at Arlington.
Every man and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country rightly should be memorialized and remembered unblemished by time. However, in our enthusiasm to salute the many let us recall the sacrifices of the men and women, soldier and civilian, who in the most horrible of times preserved our Union.
In 1873 New York became the first state to recognize Memorial Day as a holiday. Today, three day holidays are nice and welcome, but those who argue that Memorial Day ought to be observed on May 30th each year make a reasoned argument.
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