The musical essay for Memorial Day connects the national holiday with May Day, because the dating of the two holidays once coincided. The very first commemoration of Memorial Day was actually on May 1, 1865, when it was called “Decoration Day,” and it was commemorated in the strewing of flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers.
Is the national image of the woman with flowers representing Memorial Day a survival of the Roman Goddess of Flowers, Flora, whose festival was the Floralia, celebrated in May?
Thematic Images for MemorialDay 2023
"Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays.... The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blossoms." ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich
The very first commemoration of Memorial Day was actually on May Day—May 1, 1865—when it was called “Decoration Day,” commemorated in profuse flowers. The first known national observance of Decoration Day was on May 5, 1866. Memorial Day, originally known as "Decoration Day," because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. Memorial Day was first observed in 1868, as two women in Columbus, Mississippi placed flowers on both Confederate & Union graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to honor the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.
The very first Memorial Day was commemorated by African Americans.
The first Memorial Day, May 1, 1865, was called "Decoration Day," which was observed by former slaves at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.
Memorial Day Massacre
As part of the Little Steel Strike of 1937, workers struck against Ohio-based Republic Steel for better treatment and working conditions and higher wages. Republic had a mill located on Chicago’s Southeast Side. Company management planned to break this strike with replacement workers and, ultimately, violence. On Sunday, May 30, 1937, striking Republic workers and their allies attempted to set up a picket line in the prairie in front of the mill. Chicago police, who were already on the scene, responded with guns and clubs, injuring roughly one hundred people and killing ten men. Officers claimed they responded to violence with violence to protect the mill and the country from “communists.” A congressional investigation showed the claims of worker violence to be false, and only a small fraction of those there that day held radical left-wing political beliefs.
Police confronting strikers outside Republic Steel, Chicago, May 30, 1937
Protests in support of Republic Steel strikers continued after the Memorial Day Massacre, such as these women picketing at City Hall, Chicago, June 2, 1937
Protests in support of Republic Steel strikers continued after the Memorial Day Massacre, such as this group of strikers and sympathizers at a Republic Steel rally, Chicago, June 2, 1937
The question for Memorial Day:
Could it be that we have lost the true cost of war as we morn its dead ~ could it be that flowers and flags can never justify the inhumanity of war ~ could it be that all wars are lost because there are no true winners?
“We must kill them in war, just because they live beyond the river. If they lived on this side, we would be called murderers.” –Blaise Pascal (17th century mathematician and philosopher) “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?” –M. K. Gandhi
“We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart.” –Albert Einstein
“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder and it is the working class who fights all the battles, the working class who makes the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely sheds their blood and furnishes their corpses, and it is they who have never yet had a voice – in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class (the 'plutocrats') that invariably does both. They alone declare war. They are continually talking about patriotic duty. It is not their patriotic duty but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches.” –Eugene Debs (Antiwar activist, union organizer and Socialist candidate for president, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking out against WWI. He received a million votes as a 1920 write-in candidate for US president while he was in jail!)
“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason. . . . Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” –Ernest Hemingway
“All that was required of them (i.e. the brain-washed masses) was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because, being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.” –George Orwell 1984
“I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” –George McGovern
“Once and for all the idea of glorious victories won by the glorious army must be wiped out. Neither side is glorious. On either side they're just frightened men messing their pants and they all want the same thing—not to lie under the earth, but to walk upon it— without crutches.” –Peter Weiss (German writer, painter, and artist.)
"Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren." –Howard Zinn
1) Veterans For Peace marches each year in Albany’s Memorial Day Parade in May 2) DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace & Justice Memorial Day parade in Illinois 3) Memorial Day anti-war march in Washington D.C. 4) Memorial Day peace march in Rochester NY 5) Memorial Day peace march in Upstate NY 6) Peace Action Marches in The Staten Island Memorial Day Parade 7) Vets for Peace Memorial Day peace march in NY 8) Sycamore Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5768 Memorial Day Parade in Illinois 9) Rolling Thunder Vets bike parade in Washington DC 10) 1937 "Memorial Day Massacre" at Republic Steel plant in Chicago. Police murder 10 fleeing workers, wound 30, beat 55.
For Memorial Day essay, "Whom Will We Honor Memorial Day?" by Howard Zinn, click here