Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?

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When baby boomers were growing up, Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30th. In my town, the celebration started with a parade, that frequently included military personnel, both active duty and veterans. The parade wound up in the town’s Memorial Park where those who have died in military service were appropriately and solemnly honored. Afterwards, many of us gathered around a radio to listen to the broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 while others attended family picnics. There was always something to do at the local Veteran’s of Foreign War (VFW) post or the American Legion post. Hopefully, winter was gone and warm temperatures were on the horizon. We were kids.

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Now, baby boomers are adults and many are senior citizens. Many of my friends and I share the perspective that Memorial Day is another of the many American holidays that have become highly commercialized. My goal is not to get opinionated or political in this blog, but I am going to give all of you something you can share with your children and grandchildren about how it was when we were their age. Please remember how it used to be.

This is the real meaning of the holiday (as posted on time.com, Tessa Berenson, May 23, 2015)

It’s easy to forget what Memorial Day actually means while you’re sitting by the pool and looking ahead at summer vacation—but the day signifies much more than just a three-day weekend.

Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead.

It’s unclear exactly where the holiday originated—Charleston, S.C., Waterloo, N.Y., Columbus, Ga. and other towns all claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. The event in Charleston that may have precipitated the holiday offers poignant evidence of a country struggling to rebuild itself after a bloody war: 257 Union soldiers died in prison in Charleston during the Civil War and were buried in unmarked graves, and the town’s black residents organized a May Day ceremony in which they landscaped a burial ground to properly honor the soldiers.

In the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day celebrations were scattered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took root differently in the North and South. It wasn’t until after World War II that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967.

The final event that cemented the modern culture of Memorial Day in America was in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, designating Memorial Day as the last Monday in May rather than May 30, as it had previously been observed. This ensured a three-day weekend and gave the day its current status as the unofficial beginning of summer, mixing serious reflection with more lighthearted fun.

Have you ever met a hero?

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I just did. I hadn’t planned on it, but it happened.  That’s the best way to meet heroes.

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I went to visit a toy store to gather material for a subsequent blog post. There are lots of toy stores all over the place, but this one was different. This toy store has been in operation for nearly 70 years and in its present location since 1956.  It might be the oldest continually operating toy store in the United States.

Kip’s Toyland is in the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. The person who started it is Irvin “Kip” Kipper. He is the hero!

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I met with Kip’s son, Don, shortly before the toy store opened on Saturday, March 7th 2015. Don is also a leading edge baby boomer, and he now owns Kip’s Toyland that he operates with his daughter, Lily.

I was going to ask Don about the toys he carried and the store, but chose to first politely ask about his dad. Then I listened.

Irvin’s family moved from Texas to the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s. As a youngster, Kip remembers the interesting mechanized displays that were set up in the department stores during the Christmas season. The toys, that were so prominent in the windows, weren’t featured that way during the rest of the year.

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When America entered World War II, Kip became a B17 pilot. That airplane, a four-engine bomber with six defensive gun locations, was nicknamed the “Flying Fortress.” The B17 was unheated and unpressurized, so its crew needed oxygen and electrically heated flying suits to keep warm at altitude. B17s had a range of about thirteen hundred miles and flew at about two hundred miles per hour. B17s flew in tight group formations so that the combined firepower from all the formation’s guns might ward off the enemy fighter aircraft that regularly attacked the slow flying Fortresses. The phrase, “the whole nine yards” referred to the fifty- caliber ammunition that was linked together to be fed through its fifty caliber Browning machine guns.

On one particular bombing mission, Kip’s B17 was shot down over Italy. Kip was captured and became a Prisoner of War. He was held by the German army until being rescued and freed by soldiers commanded by General Patton.  In a curious coincidence, my father-in-law, another hero, was serving with General Patton and was the commanding officer of one of the soldiers that General Patton slapped in Sicily.  My father-in-law was seriously wounded in Italy, and he might have been nearby when Kip was rescued.

Kip told his family that he had determined to do something to make people happy when he was able.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Kip opened his store in 1945. It sold flags. The flag store was located directly across the street from where Kip’s Toyland presently stands. Following the end of WWII rationing, commodities otherwise unavailable to civilians, including rubber, permitted new products to be reintroduced, and Kip started to sell balloons. Kip’s young son, Don, tied strings to the balloons. Flags led to balloons, balloons led to toys, and the rest is history.

As I already said, Kip’s son, Don, is a leading edge baby boomer. On Don’s tenth birthday, in September 1956, Don celebrated by helping his father lay the new linoleum floor before Kip’s Toyland opened in its new location. It is still there, at 6333 W. 3rd St.

Don’s brother, Robert, brings their father to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning to have breakfast with both sons and to meet customers. My wife and I coincidentally had eaten breakfast that morning at the Farmer’s Market with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I wanted my family to meet Don so we had walked back to the toy store at exactly the moment that Kip arrived.

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I got to meet a hero, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

What a great day!

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