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Memorial Day, a national holiday to honor the 1.17 million men and women who have died to create and maintain the freedoms outlined in our Constitution, is not the only Memorial Day.
The holiday emerged from the Civil War as a celebration almost exclusively for veterans of the Union Army to remember those who had died. Veterans and their families from Confederate states held their own celebrations. Thus, it remains fraught with conflict and ambiguity.
States - Alabama - Florida - Georgia - Mississippi
In 2017, seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – chose to also celebrate some form of Confederate Memorial Day. It’s usually celebrated on April 26 – the day associated with the surrender of General Joe Johnston, nine days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox at the end of the Civil War.
How can we overcome these deep divides?
Years - US - Army - Teacher - Researcher
Having served 28 years in the U.S. Army and as a teacher and researcher who studies the roles veterans and their family play in society, I believe poems written by veterans that focus on honoring those who have died may give us a clue.
Tension between North and South remains. We see it not only on days dedicated to remembrance. It surfaces daily as communities such as New Orleans wrestle with whether or not to keep memorial statues honoring Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee.
Poet - Divides - Yusef - Komunyakaa - Army
One poet who does not ignore these divides is Yusef Komunyakaa, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and earned a Bronze Star. He is now a professor at New York University.
In “Facing It,” a poem about visiting the Vietnam War Memorial, Komunyakaa, an African-American, confronts the wall and issues linked to war and race. He writes:
Face - Fades - Granite
“My black face fades / hiding inside the black granite.”
But he is also a veteran honoring those who died; he...
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