The holiday is intended to honor the memories of U.S. soldiers who died in action. It’s similar to the Remembrance Days celebrated in many parts of Africa, and like in South Africa created primarily to honor the freedom fighters for independence.
But America’s Memorial Day has grown to honor all fallen soldiers not just those who fought in the 18th century revolution. In fact it wasn’t started until after the Civil War when it was first called “Decoration Day,” following a petition by recently freed slaves (most who came from Africa) to honor the Union soldiers who had freed them.
After World War I it was changed to “Memorial Day” and extended as an honor to all soldiers in all conflicts.
As a young boy it was a big red-white-and-blue festival. School got out early Friday so we could decorate our little red wagons and bikes for the big Monday parade, just as we would hardly a month later for the July 4th Independence Day Holiday.
Since then my own personal regards for Memorial Day has diminished. The numerous wars my country began during my life time have mostly been unfair and unjust. The end of conscription — which happened when I was in university — changed the military so radically that it is no longer a people’s army: It no longer represents society as a whole.
Today the military is composed either of young men who can’t get any other kind of job or who need the benefits once their service is finished, or avowed militarists.
I do stop during the day and think of my relatives in the Great Wars. I think of the way the country ultimately came together to fight world tyranny. But in my life time there is little in America’s wars to be proud of. They are mostly memories I wish we didn’t have.