Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Original Purpose of Memorial Day

I learn much as a substitute teacher.  I never know what the day will hold or what topics I will be discussing, especially in the elementary grades.  Yesterday was no different.  One of the assignments was to read and discuss a short booklet about Memorial Day.

This short booklet explained the origins of Memorial Day.  One town dedicated a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers.  This expanded to the whole country and to include all soldiers who died fighting.  The original name, "Decoration Day", emphasizes the focus on the deceased and the cemeteries.  The booklet went on to explain that Veterans' Day is the day we honor all soldiers.

Yesterday, this distinction of honoring only the fallen on Memorial Day fascinated me.  I really hadn't thought about it even though I'm sure I'd heard it previously.  All of our modern celebrations of Memorial Day include all soldiers and is not limited to those who died while serving our country.  I asked the class why we include all soldiers and if it is the right thing to do.

The kids are mainly nine and ten years old.  Most looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  I provided some ideas for thought.

We are currently involved in conflicts and there are daily reports of casualties.  Soldiers never know if they will be alive to see the next Memorial Day.  We need to honor them for the dangers they face daily.

Even those soldiers who come home from war alive are casualties of war.  I very briefly explained Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Shell Shock from World War I.  Many soldiers come home with visible injuries.  All soldiers come home with memories of experiences no one should have.  The invisible emotional and psychological effects of war alters their lives just as much as a visible physical injury.

I used J.R.R. Tolkien as an example.  The students all know at least some of the story of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit".  I had recently read or what a television program about Tolkien.  (I visualize my readings so much that I often forget if I read it or watched it.)  Tolkien was a soldier in World War I.  The trench warfare and the horrors he saw are reflected in the darkness of the trilogy and its prequel.

I tried to summarize my point by saying that we need to honor all veterans because a part of them died during the war and they live with memories I hope the kids never have to experience.  One student made the point more clearly than I ever could.  She said that it happened to her brother.  He just isn't the same now.  When they go to the fireworks displays on the 4th of July, he can't stay for long.  The noise gets to him.

In a few short sentences with unscripted emotional pauses, she conveyed to the class the reality of soldiers coming home but life never truly returning to what it was.

I honor all soldiers for all they do.