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Hip Hip Hurray for Memorial Day!

Not to be confused with Veterans Day which celebrates American veterans (survivors) of war, Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Couple reading books in a wading pool

By Richard Burroughs. This article is a re-print from May 15, 2014 

Humans are strange creatures, partially due to our evolved state of self-awareness and all that comes with it.

In the midst of complaints about the winter, climate change and the thirty degree thermostat fluctuations in the spring (which many attributed to Mother Nature's drinking problem), along with Noah-worthy rains, it might have slipped by that it's Memorial Day.

Yup, It's a coming
Yup, It's a coming

Memorial Day is an interesting holiday and a real watershed moment on the calendar: It signifies the first real benchmark of each year where people have to shove aside allusion and clothing layers to figure out if they are or if they are not, in fact, fat.

That New Years resolution was nearly five months ago. That clean diet kick may have had you juicing like a maniac all through February; but unfortunately, the Nutribullet has been in the closet since the Grammy Awards, and like Queen Latifah, has no plans on coming out in the foreseeable future.

Stay out of my business, pal
Stay out of my business, pal

But that's until you realize that Memorial Day is close, which makes you think about cook-outs, Brooklyn rooftop parties, the beach and, inevitably, because of our self-awareness, your beach body (though a bit differently in these modern times).

The last Monday of May is long considered the traditional start of the summer vacation season, which, along with a home and car, was previously a major pillar of the American Dream.

Unfortunately, that pillar has slowly disappeared like a certain, famous athlete's hairline, with the remaining vestige rebranded as "Staycations." Preparing for a staycation doesn't make me knock out two hundred sit-ups a day, but that's just me.

But for many people, the spectre of Memorial Day drives them right back to the gym, in droves, to get their body beach ready and by beach ready, I really mean Habana Outpost ready.

Yeah, it's a Staycation, but she's drinking an importend beer
Yeah, it's a Staycation, but she's drinking an imported beer


Whenever I want to relive the rapturous time of my teenage years, I put the word etymology in play, which is a very "SAT" word. That inevitably reminds me that I partied all night on Friday at the Paradise Garage, and took the SAT, without sleep and partially hung over on Saturday morning-- a rather joy-and-pain type of memory.

Larry Levan saved my night....and I still got an academic scholarship
Larry Levan saved my night... And I still got an academic scholarship!

Ultimately, whenever I use the word etymology, I realize that I could have used the word "origin," if I was concerned about my Flesch-Kincaid score.

When I think about the word "origin", while talking about Memorial Day, I no longer think about girls in bikinis and pointing at BBQ grills and asking if any of the burgers are veggie...

That's because Memorial Day has a far more macabre origin. Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates American veterans of war, Memorial Day has a connection to war, but is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Memorial Day sprang to existence during the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, that most bitter and brutal of American sagas, which pitted brother against brother, and was originally called Decoration Day and not Memorial Day.

The American Civil war featured levels of bloodshed and cruelty that we've grown accustomed to seeing in other countries; other countries to which we've affixed descriptive terms like "developing," "Third-World," "barbaric" or "dictatorship."

Yet as a defining chapter in the story of the United States, its ferocity stands out.

More than 620,000 people died in the American Civil War (and that number has been refuted to be at least 20 percent lower than the actual casualty total), which is a huge number-- about two percent of the America population in that day.civilwar_mainTwo people out of every hundred people, in America, died in a war that was ostensibly over the morality and industry of slavery. Applied to America today, per the most recent census, the number would be nearly 6.26 million people, also known as the entire population of Nevada, Nebraska and New Hampshire.

The problem at hand, at the end of the war, was that it was so bitterly fought, with so much animosity, that soldiers were often just thrown in makeshift graves, which were not properly marked, nor properly fitting for a soldier of war. And since it was so many casualties of the war, it was a slew of bodies.

civil war soldiersAmerica's profound, national schism, led to the Civil War (and that schism still has major, political and societal implications to this day), but it also led to prisoners of war getting treated like wild animals when captured or killed.

Wild animals don't get proper burials, if they get a burial at all. Since, in the Civil War, the enemy was from within and the proliferation of dug out holes, with a stick stabbed in the loose dirt was too often passing for a grave, people felt compelled to pay homage to valor and properly commemorate the brave hearts.


That was Decoration Day and the need to decorate the graves of the men and women that died in the Civil War, as a way to commemorate their sacrifice and what they died for, was felt by many.

History has pointed to a determined group of black people, (don't think "African-American" was in usage at that time), mostly former slaves, who created a proper burial ground for soldiers at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, North Carolina.

White people had fled the city and the former slaves began the process of building and marking, proper burial grounds for fallen soldiers. The race course was used as a prison camp for union soldiers, who were discarded like a batch of stray cats when they died.

Casualty Of War
Casualty Of War

A reported two out of three soldiers' deaths from the American Civil War stemmed from disease and not from battle, which was even higher for black soldiers, because of discriminatory medical care.

This meant that the majority of soldiers died in prison camps and not on the battlefield, which, I would imagine, led to soldiers being treated like crap in war prisons.

I can see the disease from here
I can see the disease from here

But history has taught us that history is, well, history.

And as it stands now, Memorial Day is all about sales at your favorite department store or online outlet, sports, cookouts and beach-hopping from the Rockaways to the Hamptons.

I marvel at our ability to take any situation and turn it into a reason to shop, drink, eat or get laid.

So here's to wishing you a happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend. There will be tons of cool things to do as well as things that commemorate and decorate.

Either way, enjoy it.

Again, humans are strange creatures.