Section 60 is a utilitarian, no nonsense term, bereft of any kind of grandeur, but it is very much a part – a significant part – of this Memorial Day.
Section 60 is five acres of gently rolling land in Arlington National Cemetery where the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan, in accord with their families’ wishes, are being buried. They join, under those dignified rows of small marble markers, their predecessors from America’s other wars and far-flung battlefields going back to the Revolution. It is a poignant reminder that safeguarding our nation is a serious duty with heartbreaking but necessary consequences.
The origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, lie in that most divisive of all American conflicts, the Civil War. Southern women laid claim to the custom of a day set aside to decorate the graves of the war dead. Union veterans laid claim to a specific date, May 30, but it wasn’t until after World War II that North and South were willing to observe Memorial Day on the same date.
The day is not marked with the pageantry and solemnity it once was, which some blame on Congress for designating in 1971 its observance on the last Monday in May, thereby creating a three-day weekend. Still, it is important that we have a day recognizing that we are who we are today because of a long line that stretches from Section 60 and the resting places of the other Iraq and Afghan war dead through our history to George Washington’s ragged, starving, unpaid and indomitable little army.
If you’re observing the weekend as most Americans do, as the semi-official start of summer vacation season, pause occasionally to reflect on why Memorial Day is called that. Think of Section 60.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)