This weekend, known to many in America as the official beginning of summer with a three-day weekend, is really something more somber. May 29, the last Monday in May, is Memorial Day. This weekend we remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice while in service of our United States of America. They died so that we may enjoy the freedoms so dearly prized by peoples across this globe.
This weekend all across these fruited plains, scouting groups, service organizations, veterans and volunteers will head out to their community cemeteries. They will search out and tidy up the graves of those who served in the US Armed Services. They will pull weeds, brush off dirt, plant flowers and place American flags.
In some communities white crosses will be put up in parks to represent the sons and daughters who lost their lives during our times of conflict.
The Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and America The Beautiful will be sung. Orators of different skill-sets and timbre will deliver heartfelt speeches.
Solemnly, bugle calls will signal “lights out” with patriotic overtones. Taps will be played.
Twenty-one gun salutes will sound out throughout the land.
Some will bow their heads with tears in their eyes remembering family members who served and who have since passed. Silent prayers of gratitude will be passed up to the heavens.
It is more than a three-day weekend. More than the kickoff to summer and a chance to grill. It’s a time to be with family and to remember that we who are here today are so very fortunate to be living in the United States of America and to thank the men and women who fought and died for us.
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From what I have found, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. Decoration Day was started to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The loss of life in the Civil War was astounding. Between 1861 and 1865 it’s estimated that 620,000 Americans perished, “approximately equal to the total of American fatalities in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, combined.”
According to the website History.com, “For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971.”
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One hundred years ago, in 1923, Michigan Governor Alex Grosebeck proclaimed, in part, “Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox marked the close of the Civil War which had cost this country millions of treasure and many, many thousands of precious lives.
“Three years later Memorial Day was instituted to honor the memory of the brave men who had given their lives in the Union cause. A generation passed and America again found herself in arms, not to put down rebellion but to establish the liberties and maintain the rights of a young, sister republic.
“Less than a score of years saw the outbreak of the great world conflict and while at first it seemed that we might be able to keep out of it, as the war progressed it became more and more evident that the fruits of liberty, so dear to the heart of every American, were seriously menaced and that to insure our national independence we must take our place by the side of those who were battling for the freedom of the world.
“We all know the story. We know how splendidly on land and sea our gallant soldiers, sailors and marines upheld the honor of the American name. Memorial Day is for the men who took part in all these wars, but our first thought will be for the grey-haired veterans, that fast thinning blue line whose step is growing feebler year by year; and in this thoughtfulness for the old soldier none will join more heartily than the younger veterans of more recent wars.
“Therefore, in order that we may pay a tribute of respect and affection to the surviving veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Great World War, and do honor to the memory of their fallen comrades, I hereby sincerely urge that Wednesday, May 30th, 1923, be fittingly observed as Memorial Day; and I earnestly appeal to the people of Michigan for hearty co-operation in plans for the observance of the day in their respective communities. On Memorial Day flags should be displayed at half-staff until noon and then hoisted to the top of the staff . . .”
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In 1918, an American woman, Moina Michael wrote:
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 . . .
She then adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith. After that, those darned French adopted the custom and took it one step further. So the story goes, Madam Guerin, after returning from the United States, made and sold red poppies to raise money to benefit orphaned children and destitute women in war torn France. Folks in England, Australia, France, Canada and the good old US of A, still continue this tradition – and you see veterans’ groups selling paper poppies to this day.
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