The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, signed into law in 1968 and effective as of Jan. 1, 1971, monkeyed with two somber holidays with military connections: Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Memorial Day had been observed on May 30 across the nation ever since that date was established in 1868 by Gen. John A. Logan of Illinois, the commander of the largest organization of Civil War veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic. It was then called Decoration Day, when the graves of Civil War dead were to be decorated with the flowers of spring. As the years passed, it came to include the dead of all America’s wars.
Veterans Day had been observed on Nov. 11 since 1919, the 1-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the first World War. It was then called Armistice Day. As the years passed, it became a day to honor the service of all military veterans.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act changed the federal observance of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, and the observance of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October.
It wasn’t long until public objections caused a change in the act.
In a federal law that took effect in 1978, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11.
Memorial Day, however, has remained a Monday holiday, to the happiness of some and the consternation of others.
Many people enjoy having the 3-day weekend at the start of summer. It coincides with the return of summer weather, which means people can do outdoor recreation, take trips, and generally enjoy themselves.
Others, however, are concerned that the meaning of the holiday – a somber remembrance of the sacrifices of our nation’s war dead – becomes obscured or forgotten.
Count the man who runs the museum dedicated to Memorial Day’s founder in that group.
P. Michael Jones is executive director of the Gen. John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro. He would like to see Memorial Day returned to May 30.
In a column written for Sauk Valley Media a year ago, Jones said Logan would not be pleased with the 3-day weekend created by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
“For Logan, Memorial Day was intended to show that ‘we have not forgotten … the cost of [a free nation],’ not to picnic,” Jones wrote.
Given that the long Memorial Day weekend has been around for more than 4 decades, it’s unlikely that a return to May 30 is in the cards. Ours is a society of convenience, and Americans do love their 3-day weekends.
Here’s hoping area residents have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, while honoring the reason for the holiday.