Memorial Day – A Little History…and a Few Thoughts

As Memorial Day does for so many across this nation, it causes me to take a moment and be thankful.  A moment to say a prayer or raise a toast to those brave souls that stood and said, “I will go.”  A moment to be reflective of the great sacrifice so many have given so that I may sit here and write and share a day with loved ones and friends in a free nation.

Memorial Day postcard (ca. 1915)

Throughout history the living have remembered the fallen by decorating graves, but our modern day holiday had its official start in this country during and after the United States Civil War.  The country was dealing with a level of death that was unimaginable.  Before it was finished, over two percent (2%) of this country’s population would give their life for a cause they believed in.  Decoration Day was a time for communities to get together and support one another by decorating the fallen’s graves.

Decoration Day postcard (ca. 1910)

In the Northern states, Memorial Day would come to be known as Decoration Day. General John A. Logan, Civil War veteran leader called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “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 1971 Memorial Day was officially moved to the last Monday in May to allow for a three-day weekend.

In preparation for this Memorial Day, I was also reminded of why the flag only stays at half staff until noon (12:00 p.m.) on Memorial Day.

The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.  

Powerful, very powerful.

Decoration Day postcard (ca. 1910)

Although I do not think we are on the verge of another Civil War, it always amazes me what divides people in this country.  The last couple of weeks have shown a dramatic increase in the number of memes, postings and e-mails reminding us of how we should celebrate Memorial Day.  These internet trolls and the news media have decreed Memorial Day is only for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, Veterans Day is only for those who served.  Now, I am not the brightest bulb in the pack, but it seems to me, any day is a good day to thank a Veteran…even Memorial Day.

The way Memorial Day is celebrated has changed even in my lifetime.  Growing up, many of my family members decorated everyone’s grave.  I am sure a special prayer was said over the family veterans who fell giving their life for their country, but many graves were decorated that never served a day in the military.  I also remember a lot of families and churches would hold cemetery clean up days just before or on Memorial Day.  Memorial Day can about remembrance of anyone you choose.  All who went before us sacrificed something or we would not be here.  Some gave the sacrifice of a soldier, many gave in other great ways.

Tuck’s Decoration Day postcard (ca.1919)

I have also watched in recent weeks as many of the monuments to the Confederate War dead have come into question or been taken down completely.  I would say that I am surprised, but I am not.  I have watched our school system and government try to re-write history for most of my life.  They can take down the memorials, but my thanks and prayers will always be with all the brave men and women who gave their life to defend the idea of America.  An idea with faults, but still the greatest idea ever conceived.

“All who are buried here understood their duty. All stood to protect America. And all carried with them memories of a family that they hoped to keep safe by their sacrifice.”

                                                                   George W. Bush

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