Happy Memorial Day to everyone.  I hope that everyone enjoys the day and stays safe.

John W. FinnThe other day my young son asked me, “Dad, what is Memorial Day?”  I explained to him how it was a day to honor and remember our fallen troops.  I also explained that a lot of people use it as a time to visit other loved ones who have passed away and to visit their grave sites.

My child’s question got me to wondering about the real origins of the holiday.  After some research, I found out the true story of Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as it was first called.

Decoration Day was observed shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War.  A lot of the towns began setting aside a day to honor the fallen soldiers.  It soon grew into one national observance.  It was traditionally held on May 30th.  Why May 30th?  It was held on that day because that was a day in which there was NOT an anniversary of a battle.  They wanted to keep that separate.

Over time, the day became known as “Memorial Day,” in part because the South refused to celebrate “Decoration Day,” which they perceived as a “Union” holiday.

Memorial Day didn’t gain much traction until after World War II.  In 1967, it was declared an official Federal holiday.

And here is where it gets messed up.  The United States government decided it would be a great idea to simply move Memorial Day from its traditional day of May 30th to the last Monday in May.  Why?

Because it created a three day weekend.  Seriously.

So what does that leave us with now?  The majority of Americans still honor their country or dead family members.  But a growing group of Americans have lost all connection with the holiday, other than the fact that it gives them an extra day off.

They go to the lake.  Take a short vacation.  Do projects around the house.  But they don’t think about much else but themselves.

John Finn

John Finn

Last Memorial Day, President Obama placed a wreath on the “Tomb of the Unknowns” at Arlington National Cemetery, which is customary for the President.  Standing with him that day was a 99 year old man named John Finn.

Who is John Finn?  John Finn was a World War II veteran.  But he was more than that.  He was a legitimate hero.  During the attack on Pearl Harbor, he manned a .50 caliber gun from an unprotected spot.  He received 21 wounds.  Finn survived and even returned to duty that same day.  He was later given the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart for his bravery.

Flash forward to Memorial Day 2010.  Neither Barack Obama nor John Finn will be at Arlington National Cemetery.  John Finn died this past week on May 27th at the age of 100.  Barack Obama chose to join the rest of America.  On a three day weekend.

Godspeed John Finn and thank you.