Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Ah, here we are on another beautiful, sunny Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the traditional start now to the summer season, and the weather here in the Lowcountry couldn’t have been better. Sunny, warm, with a deliciously refreshing cool breeze; it’s pretty much my favorite time of year. Time to eat & drink ourselves into oblivion, fry like bacon at the beach, and spend whatever money we have left after filling the gas tank at all the myriad sales because to corporate America, Memorial Day Weekend is just another reason to have an alleged sale, from jeans to cars to hot tubs.

However, while I’m all in favor of spending time with the family, relaxing, and the conduct of commerce, we also like to forget what Memorial Day symbolizes. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to our nation.

Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Charleston, SC; Boalsburg, PA; Richmond, VA; Carbondale, IL; Columbus, MS; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days. (Confederate Memorial Day is still observed in the former Confederate states on several different dates. Here in South Carolina it’s May 10th.)

According to Professor David Blight of Yale University, the first Memorial Day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the Planter’s Race Course horse race track in Charleston, near the Citadel. Now known as Hampton Park, the site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. A parade with thousands of freed slaves and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.

It later evolved into Decoration Day, by where graves of soldiers were decorated with laurel wreaths, an ancient Greek tradition resurrected by a retired general in Waterloo, NY. Many Southern states refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army and also because there were very few veterans of the Union Army who lived in the South. A notable exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866 at its Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.

The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply at the state level, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years.

This Memorial Day, I wish to salute a fallen American soldier whose remains were finally repatriated and returned to his family for burial. Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin, an Army Reservist from Batavia, OH, was captured by insurgents on April 4, 2004 when his convoy came under attack. A tip from an Iraqi civilian led to the discovery and recovery of Matt’s body on March 20th, 2008, north of Baghdad. By then, Matt had been missing in action for nearly four years. His memorial service was attended by thousands, filling a local stadium. Welcome home, brother.

SSG Matt Maupin, from Batavia, Ohio

I also wish to call attention to three other US soldiers still listed as Missing In Action in Iraq, missing but certainly not forgotten. On May 12, 2007 insurgents attacked an outpost in Amariyah, a suburb of Baghdad, killing four American soldiers and an Iraqi translator before capturing SPC Alex Jiminez, PFC Joseph Anzack, and PVT Byron Fouty.

On May 23, officials informed the family of Joseph Anzack that the Army had visually identified his body as being one pulled from the Euphrates River by Iraqi patrol boats. The body had two bullet holes in the head and one in the chest.

On June 4, an insurgent group called The Islamic State of Iraq declared in a video posted on the internet that Fouty and Jimenez were killed because the U.S refused to stop searching for them. They also claimed that they will not give the bodies of the two soldiers to their families and that the two men are buried. As evidence, they released photos of both soldiers’ military ID cards. Since the bodies have never been recovered, their status is still clouded with the possibility that they are still being held. They were at first declared DUSTWUN (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown), and are now listed as Missing/Captured.

SPC Alex Jimenez,from Lawrence, MA and PVT Byron Fouty, from Waterford, MI

Also Missing In Action is Army Reservist SPC Ahmed Qusai al-Tayie, an Iraqi-American linguist who was captured on October 23, 2006 while visiting members of his wife’s family in a Baghdad neighborhood. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since February of 2007, when a militant website showed what appeared to be a short video clip of al-Tayie. The Army still lists him as Missing/Captured.

SPC Ahmed al-Tayie, from Ann Arbor Michigan

More than 78,000 U.S. troops remain missing from World War II, according to Pentagon figures. More than 8,100 remain missing from the Korean War and 1,779 from Vietnam. Another 867 troops who were declared missing at some point during the Vietnam War were identified when their remains were found. And still listed as Missing/Captured is LCDR Scott Speicher, who was shot down on the first night of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

This Memorial Day, we remember those who have fallen, and those whose status is still uncertain.

I am afeared there are few die well that die in a battle
William Shakespeare, King Henry V, act IV, scene I

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