What we now call Memorial Day originated soon after the Civil War to commemorate those whose lives had been lost in service to the country. Known early on as Decoration Day, it gradually evolved into an official national holiday to honor all American military casualties. It’s an occasion of gratitude for sacrifices made on behalf of the United States, and surely not one to be used for overtly partisan politics.
Thus observances scheduled for Monday in Philadelphia include two walking tours from the Museum of the American Revolution to the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier in nearby Washington Square Park. A ceremony featuring a 21-rifle salute is scheduled at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, and parades will step off across the region, from Haddonfield to Media.
Memorial Day traditions are not standardized, much less mandatory, and even presidents have occasionally missed the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. But no president, or none in recent memory, has contemplated exploiting the solemnity of it in order to appease some fringe media figures and the more feverish among his supporters.
Until Donald Trump.
The New York Times reported last week that the White House was laying the groundwork to pardon a small number of American service members or military contractors accused or convicted of war crimes. The Trump administration sought expedited “pardon files” so that action could be taken over the Memorial Day weekend, the newspaper reported. The files were requested on individuals including an Army Special Forces major accused of killing an unarmed Afghan, and a Navy SEALs special operations chief set to stand trial on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing a captive enemy combatant in Iraq with a knife.
According to the Times: While the requests for pardon files are a strong sign of the president’s plans, Mr. Trump has been known to change his mind … But most of the troops who are positioned for a pardon have been championed by conservative lawmakers and media organizations, such as Fox News, which have portrayed them as being unfairly punished for trying to do their job.
Trump earlier this month granted a full pardon, or grant of executive clemency, to former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, whose conviction in the killing of a naked Iraqi prisoner in 2008 became a cause célèbre in the serviceman’s native Oklahoma. The prospect of further presidential pardons in controversial — or yet to be adjudicated — military cases during the Memorial Day weekend or later was termed “just awful” by an unnamed Pentagon officer quoted last week by the Los Angeles Times.