Thursday, May 15, 2008

Memorial Day May 26
Memorial Day began as a memorial for Civil War veterans. It has become both, a National Decoration Day of family graves, and the holiday that opens the summer season. It is celebrated with backyard barbecues, outdoor picnics, and parades. This holiday is also attactive to gays and lesbians to my home turf. The biggest gay events in the southeast is Memorial Day weekend in Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Each year tens of thousands of gays and lesbians come to Pensacola Beach to party in the sun and enjoy the beautiful white sand and emarald water. Though this is normally a conservative town, for one week each year it becomes party central for gays and lesbians from throughout the southeast.

There are parties and events both at the beach and in city of Pensacola starting the Thursday before the weekend. Souvenir shops lining this sugary white Panhandle beach display Confederate flag beach towels, window decals and T-shirts. Hooters and other bars fly POW-MIA, Marine and Navy flags and cater to the sailors and Marines from the nearby base.

Vacationing Southern families usually fill the hotels and condominiums in this slice of paradise long nicknamed “The Redneck Riviera.” But every Memorial Day they mostly stay away as this town

Waterloo, New York was recognized by President Lyndon Johnson and both houses of Congress, as the birthplace of Memorial Day because the town decorated the graves of Civil War veterans as early as May 5, 1866. The claim is contested by Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which claims to have begun the practice of decorating soldier's graves two years earlier than Waterloo. Another source claims that two years after the Civil War, it was southern women in Columbus, Mississippi who decorated the braves of both Confederate and Union men. Nevertheless, sources agree that it was General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic who designated May 30, 1868," as a day for strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, or hamlet churchyard in the land...It is the purpose of the commander-in-chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of the departed."

No survivor of that war remains, but the memories of it grow longer. As do our memories of the parades with floats; civic organizations and drum majorettes twirling their batons; lines and lines of young veterans from The Gulf War and shorter lines of older men who saw service in the Second World War. As long as there are wars, there will be veterans and casualties. We will still decorate the graves of those men whose bodies came home and remember those who don't.

The custom of placing flowers upon graves is an old one, and exists in many countries. The Greeks had rites called zoai, which were performed over each new grave. If the flowers took root and blossomed on the graves, it meant the souls were sending back the message that they had found happiness. The Roman festival, called Parentalia, or Day of the Fathers, lasted for eight days in February--violets and roses were the special flowers. Whatever the flower, wherever the grave, this placing of flowers upon graves has always seemed the natural thing to do.

Today, most states officially recognize the May Memorial Day as a legal holiday, but it is not celebrated on May 30th in every state. Over time the holiday has expanded to encompass our other national wars. Although Veteran's Day is celebrated as well, Memorial Day has become the most important day of recognition of our armed forces.

During the ongoing Iraq War, more than 4,000 Americans have been killed and more than 30,000 wounded.