Monday, May 30, 2005



Arlington (1998)

From Memorial Day History:

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead". While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.


Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

From "Casualties" by Patrick J. Sloyan:

Bush has reimposed a blackout of media coverage of the dead who are processed through the Charles Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. For more than 30 years, television cameras broadcast the white-gloved honor guard escorting the flag-covered coffins from aircraft at Dover. Often a band would play a mournful dirge.

And, the photographs and video would emphasize the size of some foreign debacle. A sea of caskets covered the tarmac in 1983 with the bodies of 241 Marines killed by a terrorist bomb in Beirut.

The last time Americans viewed the ceremonies at Dover was in 1989 when bodies began arriving from Panama. They had been dispatched by Bush the Elder to capture Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamian leader who ran afoul of U.S. policies.

While Bush was boasting at a news conference of the success in Panama, television networks split the screen for viewers to see the bodies arriving at Dover. "Aw, give me a break," Bush complained after seeing the split screen. He ordered a media ban at the base and his son has continued the blackout.

In 1991, veteran groups protested the ban which was also extended to families. According the American Legion, a nationwide organization for veterans, the exclusion robbed the fallen of a brief moment of recognition in the national spotlight.


In cities and towns where the burial ceremonies are more private, military funeral honors have become frayed. A lack of manpower and buglers has downsized the display. Only two soldiers -- one from the dead soldier's service -- are available along with a flag that is folded and presented to the next of kin. A tape recording of Taps is played on a boombox.

"The tapes wore out and we started using CDs," said Mark Word, who oversees the Pentagon's funeral service program. "Now, we are field testing a digital bugle." The $50,000 program features a brass bugle with an electronic insert. There is a volume control. All the "bugler," has to do is push a button and, after a seven-second delay, the notes of farewell are played flawlessly.

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq summoned news outlets to photograph her son's flag-draped casket arriving at Sacramento International Airport to protest a Pentagon policy banning media coverage of America's war dead.

Nearly a dozen reporters, photographers and television crews watched as the coffin of Army Spc. Patrick McCaffrey, 34, was transferred to a hearse outside an airport cargo terminal shortly before midnight Sunday, officials said.

"I don't care what President Bush wants," his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the Los Angeles Times. Patrick "did not die for nothing ... The way he lived needs to be talked about. Patrick was not a fighter; he was a peacemaker."

Those who have fallen in service to our nation deserve to be honored -- deserve our respect and our gratitude.

Those who sent our loved ones into harm's way under false pretenses and for their own ends deserve our contempt. Moreover, their actions, detailed in the Downing Street Memo, should not be whitewashed and cloaked under a compliant media blackout. The closeted skeletons cry out to be seen. And that is why this blog has joined with other progressive blogs to form the Big Brass Alliance.

Today's image shows self-similar fractal spirals of headstones at the national cemetery. Fractals are infinite. But I still cling to the hope that our current premeditated war -- and its immeasurable sadness -- does not have to be.

1 comment:

cntodd said...

I've added you to our blogswarm list.

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