Remember Decoration Day, Celebrate Memorial Day

How would you feel if the government changed the name of Labor Day to Business Day? Or what if they designated Thanksgiving as Happy Day? How would you react if they moved Halloween from the last day in October to some time in November? I would not be happy with such changes.

If you think it can’t happen, think again, because that’s exactly what they did with Decoration Day. This holiday officially signals the unofficial beginning of summer and holds the promise of fun and excitement for local residents, as well as the many visitors who will descend upon the Hamptons. I take pleasure in the knowledge that this holiday provides a respite for so many, as they seek to escape the grind of their day-to-day lives. And let’s not forget that for many East End businesses, it also delivers economic advancement. Yes—Decoration Day is a good thing.

If it weren’t for Congress, Decoration Day would not always be such an amazing time of the year. That’s because, traditionally, it was always held on May 30. However, that created a problem because, depending on what day of the week the 30th fell on, it may not have provided for the all-important three-day weekend. Luckily, on June 28, 1968, Congress, obviously recognizing the fact that the absence of a three-day weekend could diminish the opportunity for many to visit the Hamptons, changed the recognized day of observance to the last Monday in May. This was actually part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which changed not just Decoration Day, but Washington’s Birthday, Veterans Day and Columbus Day to Mondays as well. However, in 1978, Congress voted to return Veterans Day to the traditional date of November 11.

What I don’t understand is why, just one year before insuring Decoration Day would forever fall on the last Monday in May, Congress had to change the name to Memorial Day? It had been informally known as Decoration Day since 1882 and was a day when people would go out and decorate the graves of those who had passed during military service. As a result of the name change, many people now get confused about the meaning of Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day. In fact, Memorial Day is a day to recognize those men and women who have died while serving in the American Armed Forces. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is a time to honor and celebrate the service of all who have served, whether living or dead.

Maybe it doesn’t matter what the day is called, anyway? It seems that every year, we Hamptonites and visitors alike become more removed from the true meaning of the holiday. Was this something Congress intended when changing dates and names? I think not.

For instance, many aren’t aware that on Memorial Day, the protocol is for the flag to be raised briskly to the top of the staff and then lowered to half-staff until noon, at which time it is to be raised to full staff for the rest of the day. The half-staff reflects the memory of those who have passed, and the raising back to full staff at noon represents the resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain.

This sounds like a lot of flag work. How can we find the time for this? By Monday, most of us will be exhausted from the many weekend activities, shopping, barbecuing, watching the Indy 500, etc. If the flag stuff wasn’t hard enough, there is the expectation that the families and friends of those veterans who have passed will actually visit and decorate their graves. This is a fitting way of paying tribute to such a respected class, but it could also take away from some of the weekend fun.

I’m of course being facetious. Me—I am going to stick with the name Decoration Day and I will be celebrating it on May 30, as originally intended. So if you pass a house with a flag at half-staff on that morning, it’s probably mine.

P.S. On May 2, 2000, William Jefferson Clinton issued a proclamation that each Memorial Day, at 3 p.m., local time, Americans should pause for a moment of remembrance. Surely we can spare that much time. God Bless those who have made the sacrifice. Although the East End may be bathed in laughter and merriment, you will not be forgotten.

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