Friday, May 31, 2024

What is Memorial Day?

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
Every year when Memorial Day comes around it is amazing to see how many people do not truly understand the significance of the day. Most commonly they seem to think it is the time to thank all veterans and/or those currently serving in the military. In fact, it is a day to mourn and remember all the U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the armed forces of our country.

That distinction made me wonder about whether my 3rd great-grandfather Andrew Hungler should be honored on Memorial Day? Andrew enlisted in the US Navy in August of 1864, where he served as quartermaster on the USS Milwaukee. The ship supported the Union forces during the Mobile Campaign as they attacked the Confederate fortifications defending the city of Mobile, Alabama in early 1865. On 28 March 1865 the Milwaukee struck a mine and later sank. All of her crew members were rescued by the USS Kickapoo.

However Andrew came home from the war later that year as a cripple. The cause was listed as rheumatism, which they said he contracted on the ship. There are extensive medical records of Civil War soldiers, and they show over 160,000 cases of acute rheumatism, and acute rheumatic fever was known to be the main cause. Heart damage from this disease is common, and indeed Andrew succumbed to heart failure in 1869. He had been bedridden from the time he came home from the war.

So my question is, on Memorial Day do we honor our military men and women who died as a result of their time in the service? It seems to me that we should as in Andrew's case he would not have gotten rheumatic fever had he not been on a ship during the war. But the answer is no - Memorial Day is only for those who died during their service. I'll honor his memory on Veteran's Day instead.

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