Memorial Day is this weekend. Many folks are excited about the three-day weekend, making plans to have BBQ’s, picnics, going on mini-vacations and just basically enjoying themselves. There are also those who are slightly derisive of those who make such plans, telling them to remember that Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor the memories of those who served in our military in order to gain and retain our freedoms. They are both right. Memorial Day does fall on Monday and therefore it is a perfect time to get together with friends and family and it is also a day set aside in honor.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890, all of the northern states recognized it, however the South did not acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I. After the first World War, the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war. Passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May.
Some folks wear poppies to honor our fallen soldiers. That was the brainchild of Moina Michael, who wrote a poem (inspired by the poem Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae):
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
Her idea was to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers, the money raised went to needy servicemen.
As a child, I was a member of the Girl Scouts. We went to the Punch Bowl, (true names is National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) in Hawaii and placed flags and leis (which we painstakingly made ourselves) on the gravesites. The boy scouts cleaned them. Taps was played and flags were half-mast. It was a solemn occasion, a least in the morning. In the afternoon, it was luau time.
Memorial Day is day to remember our fallen defenders, those brave men and women of our military who have given their lives to keep us free. It is also a time to be with family and friends. I personally think that those fallen heroes would want it that way. It is what they fought for. So take a moment and reflect upon those who fought for you. Perhaps go ahead and place a flag on a fallen soldier’s grave. Then go and enjoy the day.