Memorial Day is the day when the United States honors those who have made the supreme sacrifice in defense of our country. It is not to be confused with Veteran’s Day which is a day when we rightfully honor all those who served. Memorial Day is when we should remember and give thanks to those who traded all their tomorrows so that we can enjoy today.
From the beginning, Memorial Day has had a strong Irish connection. Memorial Day grew out of local remembrance commemorations following the American Civil War; a war in which over 190,000 Irish Americans fought. It was the son of an Irish immigrant, General John A. Logan, as leader the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, who called for a dedicated day of remembrance.
The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Called then Decoration Day, for the practice of decorating the graves of the fallen, the 30th of May date was chosen as a time when blooming flowers were readily available and it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. It would be so celebrated until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniformed Monday Holiday Act, which for good or ill created a three-day weekend and the start of it being recognized more as “the unofficial start of Summer” then it’s original intent of a remembrance of the nation’s war dead.
Since the times of the ancient Bards, remembrance has been an important part of Irish heritage. While Americans of all heritages have served with honor, the Irish hold a unique place in service to their adopted country. Two hundred and fifty seven awardees of the Medal of Honor list as their place of birth Ireland. Much has been made about the parallels between the struggles against discrimination and prejudice that the Irish faced when they arrived in America and current events. There has been little mention of the Irish response to that discrimination: they silenced their critics with their unswerving commitment to the America. Walter Winchell once noted that “You can’t strike the American Flag without expecting to get hit back by some Irishman” while he later reminded us of the somber fact that “so many, many thousands of Irishmen are wearing the green, on their graves, for America“.
Take some time this weekend to remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice that Americans of all heritages have made, and be proud of the prominent place of the Irish in that legacy. Enjoy a peaceful and enjoyable weekend with family and friends, that is what they fought for, but take some time to remember those who made it possible.
Neil F. Cosgrove, Historian