Memorial Day is the descendant of Decoration Day, when the graves of Civil War casualties would be marked in memory. Today, we use the holiday to remember all veterans’ service, letting the day encroach on Veterans Day, where all US service members are honored. That’s not a bad thing – certainly efforts and sacrifices are best recognized when the honoree can witness the appreciation.
I have several family members from Maryland and Pennsylvania that served in the Union Army. This photo is most likely my great great grandfather, a man of whom I have no memory. With this holiday, the sacrifices of the Civil War generation are replaced with more general notions of national struggle and perseverance in the absence of personal memory. The holiday has evolved to honor veterans from subsequent wars in order to hold onto the personal aspects of Memorial Day. We now honor our grandfathers’ World War II and Korean War service, our fathers’ Vietnam service, and so many endeavors of men and women in subsequent military operations. It is the personal that is our path to the national meaning of the holiday.