Nearly a century ago, Fort Worth figured out what Memorial Day was really all about.
In 1918, with Army Camp Bowie soldiers training for World War I combat in France and British and Canadian allies dying in crashes during pilot training here, the city lay aside Texans’ bitterness over losing the Civil War and celebrated what till then was called “Yankee Memorial Day.”
The “veterans of the North” came to the Star-Telegram asking for help with “their Decoration Day,” the newspaper reported on May 27, 1918.
They asked to recognize graves of those World War I soldiers already killed and buried here, and to make sure the graves of Canadian air force and Royal Flying Corps pilots here were “buried under heaps of beautiful, sweet-scented flowers.”
Two days later, a photo showed two elderly Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War dressed in blue and gray, sharing the Memorial Day ceremony on the county courthouse lawn as a tribute to U.S. heroes and “departed heroes of the North.”
Confederate veterans, a large contingent in Texas, always remembered their lost rebels on a different day in April. They shared the new Memorial Day to help unify America, not divide it.
I asked, ‘Why can’t the American flag be folded over that “Dukes of Hazzard” banner?’
David Cabral, Fort Worth Runners Club president
All this history gets murky in the retelling, because different towns in both the North and South started marking graves and holding ceremonies during the Civil War. (In 1885, the first Memorial Day service in Fort Worth remembered President Lincoln and an Army general killed in an Apache attack, but there was no formal observance here until 1930.)
I’m retelling all this because the history also seems murky to the local Fort Worth Runners Club.
The otherwise politically benign runners are marking Memorial Day with their annual 5K run. It’s dedicated to “the first Memorial Day,” and T-shirts depict a Union and Confederate soldier with crossed rifles and the confrontational Confederate battle flag.
Club President David Cabral called the shirts a “huge mistake.”
A 10:30 a.m. service Monday at Greenwood Cemetery will remember British Royal Flying Corps and Canadian pilots killed here in World War I training.
“We didn’t have any intention of getting into some kind of activist issue,” he said.
“We just took it as a drawing of two soldiers. Our intent was to look back to the first Memorial Day and remember soldiers who lost their lives.”
Race director Sam Balandran said he went by a Veterans Affairs website about an 1888 Memorial Day observance in Arlington National Cemetery organized by Union veterans to remember all Civil War dead. The artwork is by local artist Bud Tomlinson, who often draws retro cartoons for club events.
Yes, Memorial Day is to remember fallen soldiers in all wars. But that doesn’t mean it’s a day to celebrate Confederate symbols.
Board members questioned the shirt, Cabral said, and even he had doubts: “I asked, ‘Why can’t the American flag be folded over that “Dukes of Hazzard” banner?’ ”
I can’t blame them for being confused. So was Texas.