Chapter 21 - The Red Badge of Courage
To many Memorial Day is simply the beginning of summer and for us here in North Myrtle Beach, it is certainly that! But our excitement over the start of the summer season can't make us forget about the significance of the holiday. Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first started in the years following the Civil War as a day to take flowers to graves and be with families of fallen soldiers. It was made a federal holiday in 1971.
It is no surprise, of course, that the Civil War claimed more American lives than any other conflict in American history as it was Americans fighting Americans. During and after the conflict, the first national cemeteries were established - think Arlington and Gettysburg, to name two. The date of May 30th was originally chosen because no battles had taken place on that day.
As the United States became involved in overseas conflicts, it seemed fitting that the day should be a holiday to remember Americans who died in all wars. While the original date was changed to the last Monday in May in 1971, the tradition of a national moment of silence at 3:00 PM remains in place.
Here are some great books to read as you remember all the fallen heroes on this holiday.
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane - Often considered the great American Civil War novel, Crane wrote this while never having been in battle as he was too young to serve. It's authenticity remains, however. The story is about Henry Fleming, an 18 year old Union private. He runs from his first battle and wishes he had been wounded so he could have a "red badge of courage". After meeting up with retreating soldiers and being hit in the head, he goes back to his unit. The story is more about the conflicts Henry has rather than the battles themselves.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque - A story about World War I from the German perspective, the book describes the German soldiers' extreme physical and mental stress during the war. It also deals with the difficulty the soldiers had when they returned home on leave. Written in 1928 by a German veteran, the book was banned in Nazi Germany because it failed to show glory to either Germany or the men who fought.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - Another World War I book, A Farewell to Arms is set during the Italian campaign. Hemingway saw action as an ambulance driver during the war and while he never actively fought, he was injured. The book tells the story of Frederic Henry, a soldier who is injured in battle. He falls in love with Catherine, a nurse, and the book moves between their time together and what is happening in the war. This is often considered one of Hemingway's best literary works.
We Were Soldiers Once... and Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway - A book about the First and Second Battalions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. While true military history (as opposed to a novel), the book is intriguing as it tells about United States' first large-unit battle of the Vietnam War.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain - This satirical novel about the experiences of Iraq war vets who, after being labeled heroes, are sent on a victory tour to participate in a Dallas Cowboy's halftime time on Thanksgiving. Billy's struggle between being in battle and being home is considerable and surreal as many clamor to use these vets for their own purposes.
So grab one of these books, or a favorite of your own, and remember those who have died in battles defending the freedoms of America.