This past Monday was a time of remembrance here in America, known as Memorial Day. That’s not to say that we don’t reflect year-round on those who unselfishly made the ultimate sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy, of course.
As a matter of information, this solemn holiday was not founded after The Great War, nor the one that followed it that we know as World War II. Rather, it began three years after the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, when a Union organization called The Grand Party of the Republic established it in Illinois, to decorate the graves of Union dead with flowers. By century’s end, both Union and Confederate organizations were honoring their dead, and had merged to become the holiday we just observed.
They merged—did you get that? That means “came together” or “united.”
That’s important because it was necessary for this nation to move forward, survive, and thrive. No one that laid down their life during the horrific struggle that tore apart this country between 1861 and 1865 was more important or mourned less by loved ones than anyone else, regardless of which side of the conflict they died for.
Headlines over the past couple of years seem to be opening old wounds with the removal of monuments honoring those who represented the South during the Civil War. Many statues have already be removed and relocated, and some have even been defaced and marred, but a good portion of the uproar has been played out on social media. It is a powerful network that at least allows all members to have a voice—for or against—rather than only being able to read and hear what is being said in other media.
I have no qualms, misgivings, or problems with how I feel about it. The damage has been underway for a couple of years now, and I don’t mean just to the pride of those whose family have Confederate ancestry. There’s a danger in trying to sweep history, good or bad, under the carpet. What stands as a proud symbol for one can certainly represent a reminder to others of history-changing events. Moving monuments of any kind into storage or to junkyards will not change what took place, nor what they stand for.
One has only to review the closing sentence of Lincoln’s brief Gettysburg Address to see the importance of the sacrifice made by the young soldiers who wore the blue or wore the gray: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Bravery trumped love of life for all who answered the call, just as in any war. And those publicly honored by monuments or otherwise—in all struggles—do not deserve to have their names or images shamefully removed from the public eye or conscience.
Imagine enough people deciding they are offended by war in general, to the point that their complaints result in the statue of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima being scrapped? That sounds extreme, but don’t say it couldn’t happen. And it could certainly take place in our lifetime.
We all have ancestry that we’re proud of, and yet there are those who believe theirs are unquestionably important enough to obliterate the heritage of others.
Some 620,000 soldiers gave their lives over the four years of the Civil War. Having walked through cemeteries of the blue and gray outside Nashville and at Fredericksburg, I had time to reflect on those battles and to imagine the blood-soaked ground and untold horrors that unfolded there. And I say that those lying beneath the ground they fought and died for deserve to be remembered and honored. Perpetually.
It seems flippant and disrespectful to wish someone a happy Memorial Day. Rather, we might should wish them a reflective one. Think on those who took a stand for what they believed in, no matter which war or cause they laid down their lives for. They died not in vain, but willingly, and in earnest conviction.