Memorial Day is celebrated across the United States with parades, barbecues, and “weekend only” sales events. On the last Monday in May, Americans across the country wake up early, and make their way to Main Street to watch highschool bands play patriotic songs and local cultural clubs represent their native lands. We then rush home to fire up the grill, and spend the rest of the day tossing the football and eating hot dogs. It seems Americans have forgotten what Memorial Day is really about.
History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day, orginally called Decoration Day, was first proclaimed by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868, and first observed on May 30, 1868 by placing flowers on the graves of the soldiers killed during the Civil War. By 1890 all of the Northern States recognized Mermorial Day while the Southern states chose to honor their dead on a different day until after World War II when the holiday was changed from honoring just those who died during the Civil War to all Americans killed in action. In 1971 Congress passed the National Holiday Act which officially made Memorial Day the last Monday in May.
The Red Poppy
In response to Lt. Colonel John McRae’s peom, “In Flanders Field”, poet Moina Michael conceived the idea of wearing red Poppies on Memorial Day. She then sold the Poppies to friends and family and donated to proceeds to servicemen in need. Madam Guerin was visiting the United States from France, and was so inspired by Moina Michael that upon her return to France she decided to sell handmade Poppies to raise money for children and women affected by war. In 1922 Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help, and by Memorial Day 1924 the VFW’s Buddy Poppy Program was selling handmade artificial poppies nationwide.
Traditions Across the Nation
Since the late 1950’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day 1,200 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry arrive at Arlington National Cemetary to place a flag at every gravestone and then patrol the cemetary for 24 hours a day until Memorial Day is over to ensure every flag remains standing. Beginning in 1951 the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in St. Louis place flags on all 150,000 graves in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetary. In 1998 Boys and Girl Scouts began the tradition of placing a candle at each of the 15,300 graves in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. In December of 2000 the “National Moment of Remeberance” resolution was passed. It asks that at 3pm local time all Americans “Voluntarily and informally observe, in their own way, a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.” In 2004 Washington D.C. held their first parade in over 60 years.
In Flanders Field
Lt. Col John McRae
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This year we observe our 10th Memorial Day as a nation at war. On September 20, 2001 President Bush addressed the people of the United States and said, “We are a country awakended to danger, and called to defend freedom.” That day began the American war on terror. Since that declaration of war thousands have selflessly given their lives to protect the American dream. Memorial Day ceased to be just a holiday in 2010 when we received news that a soldier in the 102nd had been severely injured when they took on enemy fire. Suddenly, the reality of war hit home. I cried. I cried and thanked God that my brother was alive. I can never imagine what Ssg Rivera’s family felt when they heard the devastating news. I can never imagine what it would be like to never see my brother or sister again, and I hope I never have to feel the pain that they and so many other families endure every day. This year America will remember all those who have died fighting, but we especially will remember Ssg Edwin Rivera, a hero. He courageously gave his life for others. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13