Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our country. Although celebrated in several places before it became official, the first military celebration of Memorial Day was on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetary.

Did you know that Memorial Day actually began as a military edict meant to honor specifically the Civil War dead? New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890, all of the Northern states were on board. The Southern states wanted no part of a day honoring all the Civil War dead and opted to honor only the Confederate dead. The Southern states had no unifying date for this memorial, though, so for many years they remembered on various days from one state to another. After World War I, when Memorial Day became a time to honor all fallen soldiers and not just those from the Civil War, the Southern states acquiesced and once again joined the Union. Finally, in 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May.

Sadly, not many Americans know the significance of Memorial Day, its rich history, or the traditions associated with it. What the average person knows is that Memorial Day is a 3-day weekend, a time for barbeques, camping, heading off to the beach, picnics, and general fun to kick off the summer. Instead of cleaning, maintaining, and placing flowers on the graves of America's fallen soldiers, the ones for whom this day was intended, we've turned a day of remembrance into the penultimate of selfish holidays.

Today, I want to honor the service of my family members. We've been really lucky in that, to the best of my knowledge, although plenty of the men have served, we haven't suffered a war casualty that I know of.

My parents met because my dad was in the Navy and stationed in California, where my mom's family had recently moved from New York. In fact, my dad and both of his brothers were all in the Navy at the same time but because of the law passed after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were not allowed to serve on the same ship at the same time. The photo on the left shows the Willett boys in their uniforms. They are, from left to right and youngest to oldest, my dad, Bill, Uncle Jerry, and Uncle Ronnie (he's the uncle I wrote about on Blogging Against Disablism Day). I think my dad was 18 at the time. There are probably lots of other family members on my dad's side who served in the military and perhaps now that I am retired, I can start investigating that side of my family to see what long-lost information I can uncover.

My mom's family came to America in 1621. They settled in New York and Pennsylvania. I know more about the miliary service of this side of my family because of my fascination with the Civil War, thanks to my maternal Grandfather. Papa took a great deal of pride in the knowledge that his great grandfather's name is on the Pennsylvania monument in Gettysburg and nearly every time we went back East on vacation, he would take me there. The plaque with his name, William R. Van Cise, is on the right. If you click here, you can see the full plaque and my g-g-grandfather's name listed under Company D. As if this weren't cool enough, William and his 8 brothers earned a special honor, called the Most Notable Record, from the government because all 8 of them served simultaneously in the Union army. How cool is that? If I wanted to, I could be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution based on my maternal grandfather's ancestry:
John Cornelius Vancise was born in Holland, 1756. When about 8 years of age, his parents being dead, he and a brother were brought to America by friends. His early life was spent in the vicinity of Schoharie. Upon the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, he immediately joined the American army and served seven years in the struggle for Independence. He fought at Bunker Hill, Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, crossed the Delaware with Washington and was present at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. At the battle of Monmouth he was badly wounded in the right leg below the knee. In his old age he enjoyed recounting his war experiences, always speaking of Washington with the greatest reverence. Mr. Vancise was a weaver by occupation, skilled in the art and wove many fancy articles. He married Deborah Murray, an Irish woman, and removed to Masonville, N.Y. They had six children, John, Simon, Samuel, Abraham, Peggy and Nancy. John and Simon were soldiers in the War of 1812. Samuel and Abraham settled in Sheshequin, where the father came also and spent his last days. As the result of his wounds, he lost nearly all use of his legs and went about on crutches. The government gave him a pension of $96 per year. He died Oct. 30, 1849, aged 93 years and his remains rest in the Sheshequin cemetery. In the Civil War, nine sons of Abraham and three sons of Samuel served the Union--the former being the most notable record in the county. (Source)

Next Memorial Day, instead of making it about picnics and potato salad, do some research and learn what we ought to be doing on this day. Volunteer to clean up the gravesite of a soldier in your town, or place some flowers on the grave of a soldier. Remember what they have done for you and your family.

P.S. I'm sorry if this post seems more disjointed than usual. It's been one of those days when The Brain has decided to let me know who's really in charge, and staying focused on anything has been challenging at best.

Labels: , , , , Bookmark and Share | edit post
2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Zip, disjointed you say. I don't think so. It was excellent. Very poignant and thought out. Loved the pictures and the history of all of this. Next year I'm on board. Make sure you remind me again :)

  2. Carleen Says:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Thom. I've felt like crap most of the day and would have gotten this post up much earlier if I could have collected my thoughts better.

    I will remind you next year; I'll bet there are some awesome doings at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. There aren't many survivors of WWII still alive, and we need to honor and cherish them while we can.

Post a Comment

What's on your mind?