What do you know about Memorial Day? That you sometimes have trouble distinguishing between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day? That it started out as a Decoration Day to honor those soldiers who had fallen during the violent outbreak between states known variously as the War of Northern Aggression or the Civil War depending on your location and intellectual capacity for grasping certain truths? Well, here are some bits of trivia about Memorial Day that may have escaped your notice.
The Complicated Political Origins of Memorial Day
The conventional wisdom is that Memorial Day is a politics-free commemoration of all who sacrificed for the United States that grew directly from Decoration Day which is conventionally viewed as Confederate Memorial Day. In fact, the very first Decoration Day in 1865 not only was one that honored the commitment of Union troops rather than Confederate troops, it was one in which the white remnants of the Confederate commitment to preserving slavery had fled Charleston, it was one in which the members of the 21st Colored Infantry was honored. Only later would Decoration Day quite literally be whitewashed before the metaphorical whitewash that transformed it into the current politics-free zone we celebrate as Memorial Day.
They Won’t Forget
You won’t forget “They Won’t Forget.” It is quite possibly the most relentlessly cynical movie ever made and making matters worse is that it is based on a true story quite possibly more infused with even more cynical behavior. Decoration Day was still a big deal in the South of the 1930s in which “They Won’t Forget” fictionalizes the real life murder of Mary Phagan in Atlanta. The film opens with a Decoration Day parade featuring the last few remaining living Confederate soldiers and it is that chasm between Dixie denial and lingering suspicion of all things Yankee that stamps “They Won’t Forget” as the most likely contender for film that most astutely utilizes t he conflicted emotions bubbling beneath the surface of Memorial Day as its narrative impetus.
“Pork Chop Hill”
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to the summer blockbuster movie season. A fair number of movies that have been released for the Memorial Day crowd have been those that take a pro-military view of American engagement in war, such as “Pearl Harbor.” Memorial Day weekend has always been a particularly odd choice for premiering movies seemingly having nothing to do with the holiday, such as “Sex and the City 2.” Then there was Memorial Day 1959 which saw the release of “Pork Chop Hill.” The title and subject of that movie references perhaps the most famous battle of the Korean War. What makes it especially interesting for release on Memorial Day is that “Pork Chop Hill” is one of the first major American movies to ever explicitly criticize American engagement in a military campaign against a foreign enemy.
The Colorization of Memorial Day
Even a fair number of those people who like to insidiously use the politics-free zone of Memorial Day to introduce politics by claiming those who don’t observe it are distinctly un-American can be caught without the number one symbol of the holiday. No, not hot dogs fresh from a backyard grill, but the color is the same. If you really want to show people that you are reserving Memorial Day to memorialize the honor of those who sacrificed, then make sure you are never caught without your red poppy. About a hundred years ago exactly–give or take–as I write this, Moina Michael proposed the wearing of the red poppy as the official emblem of Memorial Day . So make sure aren’t walking around minus a red poppy before you criticize people for observing Memorial Day by doing things like watching automobile races or grilling those hot dogs while wearing swimming trunks.
When all is said and done about the politics of Memorial Day or the lack thereof, everything really comes down to 3:00 PM on the dot. From 3:00 to 3:01 is the single most important moment for commemoration or observation or honoring the sacrifice of those who have given to this country to protect and defend whatever it is about this country they have deemed worth protecting and defending. If you do nothing else while attending a baseball game or automobile race or find yourself at the beach or Disney World, find some way to set aside just 60 seconds out of the day between 3:00 and 3:01 PM on Memorial Day to take pause, reflect and think about just where we’d all be if all those who had made the sacrifice had said no.