A few words about Memorial Day and more

Since this is Memorial Day weekend I’d thought I would share a few words with you about it (and more), as well as highlight a couple of legal aspects you may find of interest.

As most people know, Memorial Day is, by law, a public holiday.  In addition, Congress – again by law – has requested the President issue each Memorial Day a proclamation “calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace.”  Moreover, in 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act because it found that:

  • it is essential to remember and renew the legacy of Memorial Day, which was established in 1868 to pay tribute to individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States and their families;
  • greater strides must be made to demonstrate appreciation for those loyal people of the United States whose values, represented by their sacrifices, are critical to the future of the United States;
  • the Federal Government has a responsibility to raise awareness of and respect for the national heritage, and to encourage citizens to dedicate themselves to the values and principles for which those heroes of the United States died;
  • the relevance of Memorial Day must be made more apparent to present and future generations of people of the United States through local and national observances and ongoing activities;
  • in House Concurrent Resolution 302, agreed to May 25, 2000, Congress called on the people of the United States, in a symbolic act of unity, to observe a National Moment of Remembrance to honor the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace;
  • in Presidential Proclamation No. 7315 of May 26, 2000 (65 Fed. Reg. 34907), the President proclaimed Memorial Day, May  29, 2000, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and designated  3:00 p.m. local time on that day as the time to join in prayer  and to observe the National Moment of Remembrance; and
  • a National Moment of Remembrance and other commemorative events are needed to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble event that that day is intended to be.

You may be wondering about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.  As indicated above,  Memorial Day is intended to commemorate those who have died in the service, while Veterans Day (Nov 11) which is also a public holiday, is intended to honor all veterans.  It originated as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I, but – as reported here – “on June 1, 1954, Congress amended the Act of 1938, officially renaming “Armistice Day” as “Veterans Day” and thereby expanding the recognition of the holiday to include veterans of all American wars.”

Memorial Day has its own customs and traditions, one of them being for soldiers of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) to place flags at the graves at Arlington National Cemetery (where I hope to wind up someday!).  This year they will place 230,000 flags in front of grave markers.  The Old Guard also stands watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, and they maintain that vigil irrespective of the weather, to include hurricanes like Super Storm Sandy.  (Here’s some photos).  Fair warning, the young soldiers of the Old Guard do not brook disrespect at the Tomb (see here, here, and here).

By way of information, there are actually 5,000 unknown soldiers buried at Arlington.   As you might imagine, the military never stops seeking to account for those the Nation sent in harms’ way.  In fact, the Department of Defense maintains a recently re-organized but full-time office to search for the more than 83,000 troops who are still missing in action, and has a budget of about a $100 million a year to do so.

Tragically, in 2001 seven members of Joint Task Force Full Accounting were killed, along with nine Vietnamese , in a helicopter crash while searching for the remains of servicemen missing since the Vietnam war.  This is a terrible price to pay, but it is deeply ingrained in military culture to never, ever, leave a soldier behind, whatever the cost and regardless of the alleged reason for the absence. This may help explain the military’s controversial effort to bring home even soldiers like former Taliban captive SGT Bowe Bergdahl, who is now accused of desertion

Incidentally, the U.S. Code of Conduct (Executive Order 10631) reminds those taken prisoner to “trust in [their] God and in the United States of America.”   As a nation we are obliged to honor that trust by keeping faith with those not yet home, and an inscription to that effect is on the crypt of the Vietnam Unknown at Arlington.

Another Memorial Day tradition is to place flags at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington.  By Monday there will be 14,000 flags honoring those buried there, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.

You may find it interesting that the Soldiers and Airmen’s Home, now officially known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH), is a federal agency which serves about 1,000 residents not only at the Washington, D.C. facility, but also a newer campus at Gulfport, MS (formerly the Naval Home).

What you may not know is that, by law, the AFRH gets much of its support from fines and forfeitures adjudged at courts-martial as well as from forfeitures directed as a result of administrative punishments pursuant to Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (10 U.S.C. §815).   AFRH has reported that that funding source is not as robust as it once was, so other sources – to include a deduction of $1 per month from the pay of those still-serving – are relied upon to keep it basically self-funding.  Eligibility for the AFRH is set by law, but is essentially designed to serve honorably-discharged enlisted persons over the age of 60 who are deemed “incapable of earning a livelihood because of injuries, disease, or disability.”

Though not specific to Memorial Day, the “Super Bowl commercial” found here is worth 60 seconds of your time (skip over the LL Bean or whatever ad if one appears preceding it) and be sure to watch until the words appear at the very end after the Doritos ad!

Finally, the President has issued a Presidential Proclamation for this year wherein he proclaimed “Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and [designated] the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time during which people may unite in prayer.”

He also requested “all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day” and directed “that the flag be flown at half-staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control.”  The President further asked “the people of the United States to display the flag at half-staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.”

Have a great weekend, but please take a few minutes to think about those who paid the ultimate price in our Nation’s defense.


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