"Of all the presidents since World War II, only President Clinton paid a Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery every single year of his presidency."Apparently the usual right-wing bloviators are expressing outrage in all the media over the fact that President Obama is visiting the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery on Memorial Day and not Arlington National Cemetery. This is "unprecedented," the wingnuts are claiming.
(Sigh.) It's merely the usual uninformed noises coming from the habitually uninformed sources. Still, it's depressing to be so frequently reminded how little Obama's most peremptory critics know about our nation's history, modern or otherwise.
As Steve Benen said Saturday, the president's decision to visit a national cemetery other than Arlington is "without precedent, except for all the other times."
Anne Kornblut and Ed O'Keefe pointed out in Friday's Washington Post that Ronald Reagan twice missed visiting any national cemetery on Memorial Day, once when he went to his California ranch and again when he opted to give a speech at West Point. George Bush the Elder never went to a national cemetery while in office. His errant son, George W., missed two years in a row.
- In 1947, President Truman "spent a quiet day 'catching up on his work' at the White House, aides said, and his wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in
Arlington National Cemetery by Col. Don E. Lowry of the President's staff." ["Nation Pays Tribute to Soldier Dead," Associated Press report, Bradford (PA) Era, May 31, 1947 (p. 1)]
- In 1960, President Eisenhower spent the weekend golfing at his Pennsylvania farm ["Ike Gripes as His Golf Drives Fail to Obtain Much Distance," Associated Press report, Racine (WI) Journal, May 27, 1960 (p. 35)]
- In the first year of his presidency, 1961, John F. Kennedy spent the holiday weekend in Massachusetts speaking to "about 5,000 New England Democrats who chipped in $100 each against the party deficit" and preparing to leave for a European trip. ["President in Paris Stop, Then Vienna," UPI press report, Eureka (CA) Humboldt Standard, (p. 1)] He sent Senator Richard Russell and Defense Secretary McNamara to lay a wreath at Arlington. ["Memorial Wreath at Arlington for Nation's Dead," id.]
- In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson "observed Memorial Day at his Texas ranch" over a four-day stretch and wasn't expected to fly back to Washington until mid-week, where he met with his cabinet and later in the week with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. ["LBJ Observes Memorial Day At Texas Ranch," UPI press report, Lebanon (PA) Daily News, May 30, 1967 (p. 6)].
- In 1972, President Nixon spent his "Memorial Day holiday" meeting for 90 minutes with his cabinet, then flew to "his bayside villa" in Key Biscayne where he "relaxed after launching an apparent White House counteroffensive to diminish the impact of the Watergate scandal." ["Watergate Publicity Criticized By Nixon,"], UPI report, Weirton (WV) Daily Times, May 26, 1973 (p. 16)].
- In 1974, Nixon spent the early part of Memorial Day weekend meeting "with his two Watergate lawyers — James St. Clair and J. Fred Buzhardt — on current legal technicalities involving the efforts of the House Judiciary Committee to get tape recordings of presidential conversations they subpoenaed." Then he taped for radio broadcast "an economic speech" and another about Memorial Day before flying to Key Biscayne where "Nixon expects to remain... until Monday evening." ["Nixon Expected to Deliver Pair of Radio Addresses," Associated Press report, Columbus (NE) Telegram, May 25, 1975 (p. 8)]
- In May, 1980, President Carter commemorated Memorial Day aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, which was returning from a six-month assignment at sea. ["Carter Issues Memorial Aboard Carrier Nimitz," Chicago Daily Herald, May 27, 1980 (p.1)]
What we would like to know is why more presidents haven't visited other national cemeteries around the country like the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. That would be a great deal more patriotic than golfing, and certainly more so than meeting with your impeachment lawyers.
Memorial Day began, of course, as Decoration Day. It was "the occasion," as the New Jersey Suburban Intelligence put it on May 15, 1869, for "decorating the graves of the Union dead."
As it happens, Illinois lost more civil war soldiers loyal to the nation than all but two of the Union states (Massachusetts and New York). President Lincoln, himself, after whom the Elwood, Illinois national veterans cemetery is named, also was a casualty of that war in the fullest sense of the word. If anything, President Obama may be trying to bring us back from the beach parties to appreciate the original meaning of the commemorative holiday.
To be sure, after World War II "Memorial Day" became the more commonly used, and soon thereafter the official, name for the commemorative holiday. Now we honor all deceased veterans, North as well as South, who fought for the United States.
But we're old enough to remember many older folk, especially in the Midwest where we grew up, who stubbornly continued referring to it as "Decoration Day." Many regretted that the former name was fading, and for good reason:
The name Decoration Day was of itself a reminder to young and old alike that the season had come for setting out spring flowers and small flags on the graves of the nation's heroes, that the occasion was one not exclusively for picnics or a visit to the local ball park.If nothing else, here's hoping Obama's visit to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery educates Americans a-- New Castle News (PA) May 26, 1956 (p. 4)