2019 | Week of May 20 | #1309
Next Monday, May 27, will be my fifteenth Memorial Day without my dad, who was a World War II veteran. I always think of him as we prepare to commemorate this special day.
Dad very rarely talked about his war experience because it was unbelievably horrific. Consequently, as a family, we did little to recognize Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was called in Georgia where I grew up. Unfortunately, I don’t recall ever going to a cemetery or to a parade or a service for Memorial Day. For me, I think Memorial Day was more a kick-off celebration for summer—a sure sign that school would soon be out and the fun would begin.
In recent years I’ve set out to change my recognition of Memorial Day and to help the young people in my life to grow up appreciating and actively participating in this special national observance.
First I researched the history of this holiday. Sadly, I don’t remember ever learning about it in school—not even in the South where honoring the Confederate dead is still an important part of the culture.
Like most of our national days of recognition, the history of Memorial Day is rich with meaning. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the soldiers who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the following proclamation in 1868: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
That first Memorial Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in that hallowed ground. In 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial day, and it became an official federal holiday in 1971.
In small towns and large cities across America, we continue the observance. Graves of veterans during the next several days will be decorated with flags and flowers, honoring those who have served in our country’s Armed Forces.
Once I knew the history, I determined to become an active participant. The first year of my involvement, I made a point of going to the Memorial Day parade and service in my hometown. Later, along with a couple of friends, I headed to a large and historic cemetery in Madison. This was a purposeful trip because this cemetery had a section for Confederate soldiers who had died while prisoners of war. As a native Southerner, I wanted to honor those from the South who had died miles from their homes. We placed red carnations on a number of those graves and then drove through other veteran sections of the cemetery.
That began a tradition of sorts. Now, as often as possible on Memorial Day I attend the parade and service in our community’s Veterans’ Park and solemnly watch the laying of the wreath ceremony and listen to the mournful sounding of TAPS.
Later in the day, instead of going to Madison, however, I stay closer to home and involve other people. I buy several dozen carnations and invite my friends, especially my young friends, to join me in going to the city cemetery and finding the graves of soldiers where there are no flowers.
This has been a richly rewarding time as we look for veterans from all the wars, place flowers and thank God for their service. It’s also been a time for transmitting to the next generation the rich tradition of Memorial Day, an appreciation for those who fought for and are right now fighting for our freedom, and gratitude to God for our country.
I urge you to purpose now to make this Memorial Day special for you and your family. Honor those who have served and do your part to ensure that the next generation knows the truth about the day and is prepared to carry on the tradition.
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This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”