|Memorial Day is a busy boating day, and wearing life jackets is important.|
It started as Decoration Day, then it became Memorial Day, and it still is today. But, it has lost some of it’s original purpose and meaning, and now probably is best known as the weekend that starts summer.
Besides barbecues, fishing, and hiking, it also is the first big weekend for boaters. It can be tragic, if safety rules aren’t followed.
It’s important we recall the original purpose of the day or weekend before we celebrate the start of the fun days of summer.
Only three years after the Civil War ended, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day. The purpose was a time to decorate the graves of war dead with flowers, and it came at a time of the year when flowers were in bloom in most of the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
According to Wikipedia, local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy.
Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.
In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War.
Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.
By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family gatherings, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events.
Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.
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LIFE JACKETS -- Memorial weekend has become one of the biggest boating weekends of the year, thus also one of the most dangerous to folks just wanting to have fun.
Life jackets are really important, and excuses for not wearing them when boating abound.
"It's too hot! It doesn't look cool. I know how to swim. Nothing is going to happen to me."
Approximately 700 people drown in the United States each year from recreational boating accidents. The vast majority of those drowning victims probably used one of these excuses.
Just last week, a rental boat sank in the Gulf off the coast of Clearwater, FL, with 13 people on board. All were rescued by the Coast Guard. All 13 were wearing life jackets.
"Most, if not all, drownings can be prevented by wearing a life jacket,” said Indiana Conservation Officer Lt. Bill Browne. “If we can keep people's head above water we can prevent drownings. Wearing a life jacket is the only prevention measure that is foolproof.”
Conservation officers are also urging people to boat sober, and plan for a designated boat driver if alcohol will be on board. Conservation officers arrested 337 people in Indiana during 2012 for operating a motorboat while intoxicated.
Memorial Day is a time to remember those who served and those serving today. Have fun, but remember, and the also remember to be safe.