Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Wikipedia gives us some Memorial Day history (I've excerpted just a bit of it below):

By 1865 the practice of decorating soldiers' graves had become widespread in the North. General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic--the society of Union Army veterans--called for all GAR posts to celebrate a "Decoration Day" on May 30, 1868. There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890 every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, with 100,000 members.

The Civil War so dominated the day that after World War I, the new veterans pushed for their own "Armistice Day", now "Veterans Day" in November.
The preferred name gradually changed to "Memorial Day"; in 1971 the date was moved by Congress to the last Monday in May in order to ensure a three-day weekend. It marks the start of summer, just as Labor Day marks the end.
The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the 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 holidays included Washington's Birthday, now celebrated as Presidents' Day; Veterans Day and Memorial Day. 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.

[I took the above pictures in April at Arlington National Cemetery.  My wife attended family member Kermit's funeral in 1989.  The pictures below were taken in May at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.]

It's appropriate to remember people who died and to remember people who died protecting American liberty and freedom.  It's also important to remember that while all US wars were characterized as defending liberty,  many were waged for  more complicated and less noble  reasons.

It's also important to recognize that individual soldiers have gone to war for a variety of reasons that have been masked by the freedom and honor slogans that are used to justify all wars.  It's also true that the soldiers against whom our soldiers fought also believed they were fighting for honorable reasons.   There are situations where one could possibly justify war.  When another country attacks your country seems to be a good justification.  But I also believe that if businesses did not profit from selling weapons, uniforms, transportation, food, etc. to support war, we'd have a lot fewer wars.

As we remember soldiers today, we should recognize that having two days to recognize dead soldiers (Memorial Day and Veterans Day) helps to sanctify soldiers and war.  Soldiers are people who, for whatever reasons, have been mobilized for war.  Many actually experience battle.  Many don't.  For some military service makes them better people.  For others military service destroys them.

And we should remember we don't have equivalent holidays to recognize carpenters, teachers, janitors, social workers, engineers, doctors, waiters, architects, bus drivers, musicians, and others who make our life richer and more comfortable.  Like soldiers, every profession includes heroes and scoundrels.  Soldiers, however, are the one profession who are trained specifically to destroy and kill.  The cost of that activity both on the victims and the perpetrators is horrendous.  When we remember dead soldiers, we should also be reminded of the horrors of war, and that war should be the very last step we take to protect our freedoms when all other options have been exhausted.


  1. "When we remember dead soldiers, we should also be reminded of the horrors or war, and that war should be the very last step we take to protect our freedoms when all other options have been exhausted."

    You have said this before. It always jumps out at me.

  2. Your essay strikes a chord. I feel strongly about it this, but will understand if you don't accept my comment due to it's excessive length. There's simply no way to shorten it.

    Every year today, I remember Native American military veterans. This year I find it particularly fitting to pay tribute to the original Patriots, uniquely patriotic in defense of their liberty, hearth and Homeland for thousands of years, and who continue to this day to honor their commitment to conquerors new to this continent.
    Patriot: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.Miriam-Webster.

    American Revolution, 1775-1783 - American Indian tribes tended to side with the Loyalists. Native Americans' grievances came from encroachment of settlers and abuses of the traders who had now become the rebels, while England promised that they would keep their land by Royal Proclamation (1763).
    It's important to remember context here - there were no "Americans" yet. _All_ the colonists were _English_, choosing up sides as Separatist or Loyalist. North American tribes had already experienced several decades of Europeans in conflict over territory and just a few years earlier had established uneasy loyalties and treaties with both Great Britain and France (French and Indian War, 1754 to 1763).
    It must be understood that American Indians were not English subjects; they differed from the colonists in that they were not ruled by the King of England.
    The Continental Congress appealed to tribes: "This is a family quarrel between us and Old England. You Indians are not concerned in it. We don't wish you to take up the hatchet against the king's troops. We desire you to remain at home, and not join on either side, but keep the hatchet buried deep."
    Tyonajanegen, Oneida, distinguished herself at the battle of Oriskany, fighting along side her husband, an American officer of Dutch descent, loading his gun for him after he was shot in the wrist.

    "I think they [Indians] can be made of excellent use, as scouts and light troops. --Gen. George Washington, 1778

    The new government modeled its formation and Constitution on Iriquois Confederacy democracy.

    War of 1812 - William Parker, Seneca father of Ely Parker, enlisted and fought for the United States. The United States gives little credit to the numbers of allied Indian tribes, viewing them as primarily adversarial. 13,000 Native Americans fought on the British side.

    Interesting sidebar: In 1836, Governor Daniel Dunklin sent 200 militiamen with orders to expel all Native Americans from the state of Missouri.

    American Civil War, 1861–1865 - 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Regiments with Native American soldiers:
    1st and 2nd Indian Home Guard; 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the Kansas Colored at Honey Springs, the 79th US Colored Infantry, and the 83rd US Colored Infantry; 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles; Indian Cavalry Brigade, 1st and 2nd Cherokee Cavalry; Junaluska Zouaves (200 Cherokee); 5th, 12th and 17th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia;
    Army of the Potomac (Powhatan served as land guides, river pilots and spies); Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters (Ottawa, Delaware, Huron Oneida, Potawami and Ojibwa);
    U.S. Colored Troops.

  3. The Civil War, 1861-1865 - Most members of the Five Civilized Tribes and Indian Territory "chose" the Confederate side, which saw value in rallying American Indian support. In 1861, the Congress of the Confederacy "annexed" Indian Territory and had tribes sign allegiance treaties, agreeing to offensive and defensive alliances. In return, the Confederates promised Creek, Choctaw, Seminole, Quapaw, Seneca, Osage and Cherokee nations that no territorial government would be exercised on them without their agreement, and that the Confederacy would honor the annuities derived from treaties signed with the United States.
    The Confederacy recruited military units among American Indians who became regulars in the rebel army. 6,000-8,000 Creeks fled north, joined by other refugees refusing to fight for the South. When Union troops defeated Missouri rebels, 15,000 Cherokee joined the federal forces.

    General Ely Parker, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's military secretary and a trained attorney, was once rejected for the Union military because of being Native. He drafted the surrender documents, which are in his handwriting, when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865.
    General Lee mistook Parker for a black man, but apologized saying, "I am glad to see one real American here." Parker was said to respond, "We are all Americans, sir."

    "Grant and Lee invited the staff into a parlor of the house where they met. Those who were present, Horace Porter for one, said that when Parker was introduced to Lee, Lee appeared startled. And the assumption was, Lee mistook
    Parker for a Black man and was insulted that Grant was bringing a Black person to the surrender. There's another account that said the negotiations were going to be broken off."
    William Armstrong, Parker Biographer

    Spanish-American War, 1898
    Theodore Roosevelt's 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, the "Rough Riders": cowboys, gold miners and prospectors, hunters, gamblers and 60 Native Americans.
    Four Native American Catholic Sisters from Fort Berthold, South Dakota worked as nurses for the War Department.

    World War I, 1914-1918
    142nd Infantry, 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division.
    All American Indians were allowed to volunteer, whether they were U.S.citizens or not, and all Indian men who were citizens in 1917 were subject to the draft. 2,000 Native American men volunteered for American and Canadian armies before the draft was put into effect.
    There were draft boards on reservations, composed of the reservation's superintendent, chief clerk and physician. If citizenship status was ambiguous, he was considered a non-citizen. However, draft authorities took advantage to enlist some who would not have been legally draftable; those who were non-citizens, had dependents or had failed the medical examination.
    Official service records of Eastern Cherokee Band soldiers revealed the Indians' legal status confusion. When asked if they were United States citizens, some said yes, others said no, some wrote "ward," and one answered with a question mark. American Indians who refused the draft were sent to jail. An estimated 99 percent of healthy male American Indians ages 21 to 44 were registered for the draft. The Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered an investigation that never really happened.
    Fourteen Native American women served as members of the Army Nurse Corps during World War I.

    1924 - Federal law recognized Native Americans at US citizens.

  4. World War II, 1939-1945 - According to military records, more than 44,000 American Indians (of a total Native American population of less than 350,000) served with distinction between 1941 and 1945.
    Over 40,000 Native Americans left reservations to work in ordnance depots, factories and other war industries. American Indians invested more than $50 million in war bonds and contributed generously to the Red Cross and the Army and Navy Relief societies.
    1,200 Pueblo served in World War II; only about half came home alive.
    Nearly 800 Native American women served during World War II. Private Minnie Spotted-Wolf of Heart Butte, Montana was the first female American Indian to enroll in the Marine Corps in 1943. Minnie worked on her father's ranch cutting fence posts, driving a two-ton truck, and breaking horses. Her comment on Marine boot camp: "Hard, but not too hard."
    Ola Mildred Rexroat, Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) directly out of high school.

    Native Americans have the highest record of service during the Vietnam conflict, per capita, of any ethnic group. More than 42,000 Native Americans, over 90% were volunteers, not drafted.

    Iraq - Department of Defense data (July 2005) show that more than 24,000 among 1.4 million active duty military are American Indians, including nearly 3,900 women; American Indians represent roughly 2% of the active duty force.
    • Among American Indians in the active duty military, nearly one-half are in the Navy, compared to one-quarter of all active duty members.
    • 20% are in the Marines, 13% are in the Army, 12% are in the Air Force.
    • American Indians males in active duty military represent more than 3% of all American Indian males 20 to 44 years old. Approximately 2% of all males, ages 20 to 44, are active duty military.

    Trends continue to reflect that American Indian males serve in greater proportion than eligible males in general.

    Army Spc. Ryan LeCompte, Lower Brule Sioux, served two tours in Iraq in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The Lakota warrior from South Dakota was a standout soldier, earning accolades for working “tirelessly, without complaint, despite the long hours and harsh conditions he faced,” according to a December 2003 award recommendation. He participated in more than 160 combat missions. He was an “unstoppable force” that “ranks him among the best in the Thunder Squadron.”
    Ironically, LeCompte's ancestors fought the 3rd Cavalry in 1876, when 10 companies of that regiment fought in the Battle of Rosebud Creek.

    "They ridiculed him and called him a 'drunken Indian.' They said, 'Hey, dude, you look just like a haji--you'd better run.' They call the Arabs 'haji.' I mean, it's one thing to worry for your life, but then to have to worry about friendly fire because you don't know who in the hell will shoot you?" —Tammie LeCompte, May 25, 2007

    Steve Robinson, director of veterans' affairs for the Veterans of America, has investigated more than 40 complaints at Fort Carson:''The fact that people in his chain of command used ethnic and racial slurs, called him 'sand nigger' and 'prairie nigger' and 'wagon-burner' and other things is very disturbing..."
    Fort Carson spokesman Karen Linne: ''As far as his allegations of racial slurs, I know that his unit did conduct an investigation...part of what they found there was the slurs actually occurred in previous units, not the one he's currently assigned to."

  5. Special Indigenous units

    Indian Scouting Service - 77 years, from Pancho Villa (1916) to a contingent of Apache scouts in France in World War I. The military record of the Scouting Service is without parallel: between 1872 and 1890, sixteen Native American members of the branch were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor. The scouts were disbanded in 1943. Army Special Forces adopted the service's crossed-arrow insignia. (Reference Roy Cook, SFA-75)

    The Alamo Scouts - Acknowledged by the U. S. Army as forerunners of today's Special Forces, the Alamo Scouts - of which nearly one-quarter of the enlisted graduates from its first training class were American Indian - were a top secret reconnaissance and raider unit that operated in the southwest Pacific during World War II and performed 108 missions without losing a single man.

    Navajo Code Talkers - Army Intelligence developed this program based on the Canadian Army in World War I, when the Native Americans served as signalmen against the Germans to send secure messages about shortages of supplies or ammunition.
    March 6, 1942, Maj. Gen. Clayton B. Vogel recommended the initial recruitment of two hundred Navajos for the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. An estimated 375 to 420 Navajos served as Code Talkers.
    The Navajo code talker program was highly classified until 1968. Navajos returned home on buses without parades or fanfare, sworn to secrecy.

    Alaska Scouts/Castner's Cutthroats - The 1st Combat Intelligence Platoon comprised Aleuts, Eskimos, sourdough prospectors, miners, hunters, trappers and fishermen, with nicknames such as 'Bad Whiskey Red', 'Quicksilver', 'Aleut Pete' and 'Waterbucket Ben'. From 1941 to 1943 they conducted reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions and spearheaded amphibious assaults during the campaign in the Aleutian Islands.
    At the beginning of World War II, the Army stationed Lt. Earl Acuff on a remote Aleutian island to spy on Japanese planes. After several months went by without hearing from him, the army charged Castner's Cutthroats with recovery of his body. When they found him alive and well, he was quickly transferred to the Alaskan Scouts.
    "I was living like a king. I was diving for king crab and eating fresh seafood and fowl -- wild ptarmigan, ducks and geese -- for dinner. They told me not to break radio sound unless I saw a Japanese plane, so I didn't. When the Alaskan Scouts came to 'rescue' me, they started thinking that maybe they'd like to stay with me."

    The Scouts were active until 1946, running 20 survey patrols that covered the Alaskan coast from Naknek north to Point Barrow, south to Fairbanks and west to Unalakleet.
    On August 30, a 17-ship landing force with 4,500 men and tons of heavy equipment arrived in the Aleutians. Their mission: to build an airstrip and troop staging area in preparation for the
    retaking of the enemy-occupied Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.

  6. Eskimo Scouts - During World War II, battalions faithfully patrolled 5,000 miles of Aleutian coastline and 200,000 miles of tundra, rescuing downed US airmen. Army Major Marvin Marston organized the Eskimo Scouts to defend Alaska against attack. Since 1949, the Army National Guard has retained scout battalions in rural Alaska, largely comprised of Alaskan Natives. Their official mission was to guard Alaska against invasion or intrusion by the Soviet Union.
    The Eskimo Scouts patrol the western coastline of Alaska and the islands separating Alaska and Russia. The Scouts are the only members of the National Guard who have a continuous active duty mission. Scouts currently patrol ice flows in the Bering Straits, monitor movements on the tundra, and perform Arctic search and rescue efforts as required. As of 1980, at least sixty women were serving in the Eskimo Scouts.
    Lifting the Ice Curtain, New York Times.

    Interesting legend: "There is a persistent story, denied by the Pentagon but confirmed by Alaskan sources, that an Eskimo member of the Alaskan Scouts was apparently shot to death after stumbling upon a Spetsnaz reconaisance (sic) unit in Alaska. Reports indicate that authorities discovered footprints leading from the murder scene to the water's edge, as well as mini-sub tracks nearby in shallow water. In addition, a piece of equipment found at the scene was identified as being of Soviet origin. The incident has produced serious dissension within the ranks of the Alaskan Scouts: Several members have refused to patrol the area of the shooting and others have resigned. [Editor's note: SOF has learned that the item of Soviet equipment found next to the body of the Eskimo Scout on Little Diomede Island was a Soviet NBC decontamination kit. In addition, an autopsy performed on the scout revealed that he had been killed by a dum-dum bullet of a type known to be favored by Spetsnaz teams.]"

    Arctic Warriors, 207th Infantry Group - Constituted Jan 8, 1964 as the Alaska Army National Guard 38th Special Forces Detachment. By 1996, 2,055 soldiers assigned including 464 full-time Federal employees. Guard members are located in 76 communities across the State - more than in any other State. The Alaska Army National Guard has the highest percentage (34%) of Native Americans in the nation, per capita.
    In addition to regular Annual Training events, soldiers take part in several overseas and domestic deployments, exercises, and innovative readiness training opportunities. Alaskans provided real-world mission support in Korea, Indonesia, Southern California, Italy, Arkansas, Washington, Hawaii, Panama, Columbia, Nicaragua and Kosovo.

  7. Anon, I haven't digested all this yet, but thanks for the posting all this information.

  8. I like this post, and the comments. I was just wondering today why we had both Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, but it was a passing thought and I didn't look into it. So thanks for the answer.

    And interesting point from the commenter about Native Americans being veterans of the American Revolution. Not many people would think of it from that viewpoint.

    I too have mixed feelings about the holidays, because of my feelings regarding war. I think we go to war too quickly, and that it usually hurts more than it helps.

    I also have two very close family members who are veterans, and neither one of them observes either holiday. Both had no choice in whether or not to serve, which is true of many who serve. One was drafted, and the other was basically forced by economic circumstances to join the military. There are so many military members who serve for no other reason than that it is the only ecomonic opportunity available to them.


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