This Memorial Day, I learned that the very first Memorial Day was a remembrance by freed black slaves in Charleston, South Carolina in honor of the union dead. That seems like a significant fact we weren’t taught in school.

It bears reminding, too, that our soldiers fought a major war to end the Nazi threat. A lot of people have forgotten that swastikas were once trophies taken from a fallen enemy, not something to celebrate today.

My wife and I traveled to St Cloud, Minnesota today, where the Veterans of Foreign Wars were putting up a new monument. It was a surprise for her. My sons had gotten together and donated to have her father’s name, Robert Gjerness, put on the monument: he was a Minnesota native who had served as a Marine Raider in the Pacific War, and had fought some of the fiercest battles there, like Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. He didn’t talk much about it, but he’d let his grandchildren play with his box of medals, and they have fond memories of their grandfather, who died a few years ago.

We remembered.

It’s the least we can do.


  1. Sean Boyd says

    My late father (dog rest his un-soul) loathed Memorial Day. He served 22+ years in the Army, including combat tours in both Korea and in Vietnam. In Vietnam, he was the platoon sergeant for a medical platoon. He managed to bring all of his men back alive, save one. That always bothered him deeply. Later in life, he became very disillusioned with his participation in the US military, feeling (rightly) that he and his fellow soldiers had been lied to at pretty much every step, and that innocents in Asia had died as a result. That bothered him as well…he didn’t think he’d killed anyone himself (he was usually busy trying to avoid getting shot) but he couldn’t be sure, and at any rate, others died where he was, and he knew it, and he regretted every bit of his part in it and more.

    25 years ago, he was an avid Rush Limbaugh listener, and probably would’ve been a Fox News junkie if they’d been big at the time. When he died 2 years ago, he’d long since cast aside that bullshit (he loved him some Rachel at times), and was in particular very critical of the free pass our armed forces get for things they do wrong. And when he was diagnosed with cancer, his stated goal was to live long enough to see Trump booted out of office, one way or another. I never did discuss with him what made him change his mind on these things. I wish I had.

  2. hemidactylus says

    Those of us not in that hell cannot even imagine what those Pacific battles were like. It is cool your sons did that to surprise their mom.

  3. stwriley says

    My father had mixed feeling about Memorial Day. He was a WWII vet who landed at H+30 on Utah Beach, but he did it without a gun (he was a medic and a conscientious objector.) He seldom talked about his service, though in many ways it made him more of the man he was; a pacifist but an ardent opponent of fascism and all right-wing thought. He felt that we rightly honored those who gave their lives to stop fascism, but had very little sympathy for the military mindset in general. We’d all be a lot better off if that were the norm for Americans, but we’re a militaristic people, by and large, and spend too much time honoring those who die in wars while seldom questioning why they needed to die in the first place. Sacrifice for one’s country may be a virtue, but whther or not that sacrifice was in a virtuous cause is something we’d rather gloss over.

  4. drew says

    Take that, UDC and/or what would become the UDC! You who popularized this and annually honored the Confederate dead even before the war finished! Attempts to whitewash the holiday, pun intended, have included this declaration that it was originally by ex-slaves for union soldiers, making it a national day despite many southern states still also having their own day, naming someplace in New York as the starting point, making it an official federal holiday, and more. Unsurprisingly, these events happened at the same historical times as certain statues were put up as “both sides” attempted to make history theirs.

    No doubt someone in Texas is writing a different origin story in textbooks as you red this.

    Also notable, it’s one of three days every year to honor American soldiers sent to die for fruit or oil or whatnot. Go corporations!

  5. whheydt says

    I knew someone many years ago whose father-in-law had been a WW2 Marine combat photographer. He had work prints made of all the 16mm movie footage he shot. It was in color. We ran a reel he shot on Iwo Jima, which started on the landing beach. You could see little orange flashes on Mt. Surabachi. A few seconds later, the camera view went all over the place and there was lots of black smoke as the incoming artillery shells went off.

    Later on the reel, there were shots of drawing a line on a map to show where footage had been shot. Much of it was walking along a road…with the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers that had been sitting out in tropical heat and humidity for 3 or 4 days… Remember I said it was in color?

    As it got closer to the actual fighting front, the camera angle got closer and closer to the ground.

  6. unclefrogy says

    I was listening to npr this morning and they were doing a piece on Arlington national cemetery and the guy being interviewed mentioned that the cemetery was built on the grounds of an old plantation. That is true but I wonder why he did not mention that it had belonged to Robert E lee and was started during the civil war to bury the union dead. It is a just result that that property was taken from someone who was a very important cause of the prolonging of the civil war and the dead that were the result.
    It has always been politicians, kings and princes that make war but it is soldiers that do the dying.
    I worked today because most of the dead would have rather worked than die. They died so I honor them by doing what I can.
    uncle frogy

  7. nomdeplume says

    Those who forget the 20 years between 1925 to 1945 are bringing back the horror of fascism all over Europe. And not in some kind of ignorant way, not knowing the truth, but actively saying that the Nazis and Italian Fascists, and those who collaborated with them all over Europe, were pretty good people, much misunderstood. Fine people on both sides I suppose, although these and neofascists think that the fine people were the ones who made the trains run on time to Auschwitz. I find it almost impossible to believe that I have lived long enough to see people voting for these swine. Nor to see that America, which played such a critical role in defeating these evil bastards, has a significant number of people wanting to recreate the Third Reich in the Land of the Free.