Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day, originating after the American Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service, but many Americans honor all their dead on Memorial Day. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
As we make plans to enjoy the long weekend, we, as a family, look for opportunities and activities to focus on the meaning of Memorial Day. We especially made sure we did that when our kids were young, including a stop for Sunday service at our church who always dedicated their entire Memorial Day service to celebrating America and those who protect(ed) her.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in activities and events that are not related to the meaning of Memorial Day or patriotism in any way... After all, it is the weekend for Americans to take their first mini-vacation of the summer season; participate in a string of activities from picnics to bar-b-ques, hikes to pet events and block parties; to take trips to amusement parks now on their summer schedules and watch the Indianapolis 500; to get to their postponed projects around the house or to take out the ‘summer toys’ including boats, sea-doos, motor bikes and ATV’s… And before they know it, the weekend is gone and too often nobody even mentioned or thought about the reason for the Memorial Day holiday and their 3 to 4 day weekend.
I am a first generation American immigrant from a family full of more recent immigrants and one of my fondest childhood memories is of family events where I would sit and soak in the conversation and stories.
My mother was German and served in the (German) Red Cross during WWII where she met my father, an Austrian soldier from a medical unit. They married in an American prisoner of war camp after the war (where the Americans made my mother a wedding gown out of gauze from the medical unit supplies).
My grandparents went through WWI in Germany. My uncle and his brother served in the Korean War and their father served in the U.S. army in WWI. It was fascinating because we heard personal stories and battle accounts from several perspectives. And since that time we have added relatives and friends who have served in Viet Nam, Somalia, the first and second Iraq conflicts and now in Afghanistan. These types of discussions are a rich source and perfect way of combining knowledge of U.S. and World history, family history and traditions to pass along to future generations.
There is no greater country on earth than the United States of America and there is nobody that deserves more credit for the great lives we live and the freedoms we all enjoy than our Founding Fathers and our troops who have fought for us, sacrificed and given their lives to keep us safe and free for over 235 years, since before we were a nation. Unfortunately we are no longer teaching history in our schools and much of what they do teach is slanted, a mere glance or has been re-written. As citizens, parents, grandparents and patriots, it is our job to inform ourselves and to reverse the present cycle by filling in the gaps and demanding that our schools return to teaching history from “original sources” and passing it on.
If you can get there, a trip to Washington D.C. and Arlington Cemetery is the ideal Memorial Day trip or summer vacation destination. Some other great Memorial Day Weekend activities are visiting a Presidential Library or civil war battlefield, watching the yearly PBS special honoring our troops from DC, visiting a veteran’s grave locally or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reading a book about one of the wars we have fought in or about the founding of our nation and sharing about it over dinner or at an event. Washington D.C. begins its Memorial Day celebration with the arrival of the rolling thunder. President George W. Bush rode with hero vets in the Wounded Warriors Mountain Bike Ride.
Watching a movie or movies (hopefully made with some accuracy) about our rich past including the U.S. involved wars or conflicts and then perhaps following up on the history behind it (them) can be another fun as well as educational activity. We all know that even the best films throw in a little “Hollywood” slant and sizzle (unfortunately sometimes too much), but the right movies can be a great place to spark our children’s interest in history and a great jumping off point for us and them to learn more!
This Memorial Day Weekend, as gas prices are high and the economy is slow a great weekend could be staying local and participating in or attending the city parade or event, visiting a nearby cemetery, catching the PBS Memorial Day Special from DC and spending your time at home with family, friends (or even alone) eating some comfort food, reading a good worthwhile book related to the holiday or our history and/or creating your own film festival of movies. Below are a few suggestions to start with. There are many more that you can add to the list. One of my favorite movies for both Memorial Day and the 4th of July is Yankee Doodle Dandy about George M. Cohan, starring James Cagney. It is a musical that some might say is a bit corny, but it highlights the patriotic music of our country and somewhat balances out the serious and somber war movies. The songs therein were songs every American child learned in school and every American could sing until recent years.
A few movie suggestions (always good and great Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Veterans Day Weekends):
Tunes of Glory (post-WWII): A well-regarded 1960 film starring Alec Guinness and John Mills in post-war Scotland.
Hope and Glory (WWII): Funny and touching, it tells the story of the British home-front in World War II.
Danger UXB (WWII) (hard to find): A TV series from my mom’s post-Brideshead Revisited phase. It also takes place on the British home-front with a squad in charge of defusing unexploded German bombs (“UXBs”).
The Bridge on the River Kwai (WWII, pictured above): An all-time classic, again starring Alec Guiness and William Holden. A great collection for WWII buffs is the WWII 60th Anniversary Collection (The Guns of Navarone/From Here to Eternity/The Bridge on the River Kwai) (Includes Collectible Scrapbook)
Mrs. Miniver (WWII): More from the British home-front, starring Greer Garson.
The War – PBS 7-Part Special Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (WWII): A "Peoples History" of WWII with all original footage and photos.
Lawrence of Arabia (WWI): Another classic, and one of my favorite “see it on the big screen” type of movie.
Gallipoli (WWI): Not exactly uplifting, but a powerful drama.
Joyeux Noel (WWI): Another one from the Great War. It’s based on a true event in which opposing armies take a respite for the holiday. (Special Collection) I remember my dad telling stories like this from WWII.
Platoon (Viet Nam War): Best Picture of the Year Oscar Winner (1986) that was part of Oliver Stone’s trilogy of Vietnam War films, also including Born on the Fourth of July (1989) — winner of two Academy Awards and Heaven & Earth (1993)
The Patriot (Blu-Ray) (Revolutionary War): An emotional, vivid, and palpable story about a South Carolina Family during the Revolutionary War with an excellent cast including Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
Black Hawk Down (Somalia Conflict): Depicting the Battle of Mogadishu, a raid integral to the United States’ effort to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
North & South (Civil War mini-series): An epic series with Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley.
Charlie Wilson's War (CIA Operations - Afghanistan): Texas congressman Charlie Wilson's covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.
The Hurt Locker (Iraq-Afghanistan Conflicts) The little film that beat out the mega money blockbuster; won the 2010 Best Picture of the Year Oscar.
The 2013 award season was full of historical films outlining valor and patriotism: Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are all award winning films from 2012.
Argo (CIA Operations - Iran): A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
Lincoln (Civil War Era): Covers the final four months of Lincoln's life, focusing on the President's efforts in January 1865 to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the United States House of Representatives.
Zero Dark Thirty (War on Terror): Billed as "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man", the film dramatizes the United States operation that found and killed Osama bin Laden leader of al-Qaeda.
Others worth a mention including some of my own favorites: Patton, The Clock, The Great Escape, Stalag 17, Casablanca, The Guns of Navarone, The Deer Hunter, Glory, Breaker Morant (hard to find DVD (VHS), We Were Soldiers, Midway, Dr. Strangelove, Or…, Buffalo Soldiers, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Forgotten Grave, The True Story of the Fighting Sullivans…, All Quiet on the Western Front, Band of Brothers, John Adams, Gone with the Wind… my favorite movie of all times.
Some great books to start or re-start your journey through America’s history with are: The Real George Washington; The Original Argument, A Patriot’s History of the United States…, Original Intent, Giants, The 5000 Year Leap, Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, The Greatest Generation (on Kindle), War Letters, Being George Washington and Killing Lincoln.
There are many many more great films about America, American-involved wars and the troops who fought them. Sorry if I missed one of your favorites! Unfortunately… “Freedom Is Not Free!!”, so we owe those who fought for us the respect of remembering and remembering the truth.
God Bless America, our troops, our veterans and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and their families!
Originally posted by Ask Marion on 06.05.11 – Updated 05.23.13 9:38p.m. PT