Boomers Celebrated a Different Memorial Day

Memorial Day was not declared an official national holiday by Congress until 1971. The origins of the day go back to at least 1868, when it was dubbed Decoration Day; it was a holiday set aside to honor Union soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Civil War. From its earliest inception, the day was meant for the solemn remembrance of military war dead.

Depending on where boomers lived, they might have had very different experiences regarding Memorial Day in their youth. Not every state marked the occasion, and those that did, might have had a different focus. As the generation that lived during the Civil War began to dwindle, celebrations of the day changed to include those who died in WWI, then WWII. In 1968, Congress acted to move several holidays to specific Mondays in order to create long weekends; this law passed in 1971, creating the modern Memorial Day weekend we celebrate today.

Mister Boomer lived in a state that marked the day as a state holiday since 1871. In the 1950s, Mister B recalls not only getting a day off from school, but going to his town’s annual Memorial Day parade. It was a day filled with marching bands, American flags, military veterans and politicians. As a young boomer, though, Mister B also remembers the grilled hot dogs supplied by a local veterans’ organization.

Mister Boomer, like practically all boomers, had parents and relatives who served during World War II in various capacities. As decades have passed, it can be difficult to remember that the dawn of the Baby Boom began at the end of the War. In the 1950s and ’60s, memories of the War were very fresh for most families. In the 1950s, the President of the United States had been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces; the president who followed was famously a Navy PT boat captain. Memories of the War, and those who perished in it, were front and center a decade or two later.

It was during the boomer years that the evolution of the holiday grew from a solemn one to a tie-in for holiday weekend sales, backyard barbecues and the unofficial beginning of summer. Mister Boomer surmises it was in part because our parents, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and fought the Great War, wanted something better for their children. As such, many would not talk about their war experiences. Mister B was an adult before he knew that all but one of his uncles saw combat in Europe during the War. By the 1960s, his family marked the holiday with an annual picnic at a state park, that included all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.

So much has changed in the decades since the beginning of the Boomer Generation. Society evolves, in some ways for the better, in others, maybe not. If you had a family member who served and died, your perception of the holiday may be different from those who did not. Whether you visit a cemetery, go buy a mattress or fire up the backyard grill this weekend, Mister Boomer wishes you the best.

Did your family celebrate Memorial Day when you were young, boomers? Has that changed as you have aged?