Memorial Day is much beloved among holidays because of it’s position on the calendar. It is basically the official start of the summer season and for many workers and families represents the first true holiday from work since New Years.
It’s thusly a happy time. It’s hard to be sad, after all, while being outside on a warm sun swept day with a cold beverage in one hand and a burger in the other. Or watching the Indy 500, taking in a parade or making the first of many trips to a summer campground.
But Memorial Day was actually born out of something much, much worse than beers and brats. It started in the wake of the Civil War as Decoration Day, as a recognition of soldiers who had lost their lives in the bloody war. The commemoration was eventually extended to all the dead of all America’s wars, and veterans’ graves are still decorated with flags in cemeteries across the nation today.
Today, our wars are fought thousands of miles away and are easy to put out of mind. Even news from the battlefields is generally preempted by domestic issues, social debates and political happenings.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the very lands we call home here in the Capital District and beyond were the battlefield. The Battle of Saratoga is regarded as a major turning point in the Revolutionary War, and it was on a field in what became Stillwater 700 people were killed in battle. Albany was a military hub in the French and Indian Wars and the nearby countryside was awash with particularly brutal warfare. And from Albany it is today a weekend trip to Harrisburg or Gettysburg, where tens of thousands of Americans perished.
Even when wars were fought across oceans, they became major parts of the American landscape because of the impact they had on everyday life. In addition to millions of young men being called up for service, most families had to contend with the rationing or downright absence of everyday items.