Memorial Day History and Celebration
by Stephanie Davies
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.
~ John McCrae, 1915.
First I want you to read this article. Then I want you to scroll back up and re-read the poem above, softly, gently, out loud.
Memorial Day began on the 5th of May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11 which said:
"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."
And it 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.
Although some Americans view this as a great 3 day weekend, and a time that local swimming pools open, picnics, sporting events and other "fun" activities, Memorial Day has traditionally occurred on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), advocate returning to this fixed date. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
Since the end of World War 1, due to the poem at the top of this article "In Flanders Fields", Memorial Day has also become known as Poppy Day. By 1918 the poem was well known throughout the allied world. Moina Michael, an American woman, wrote these lines in reply to the poem by 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
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.
A French women, Madam Guerin, visiting the United States, learned of the custom and took it one step further. When she returned to France she decided to hand make the red poppies and sell them to raise money for the benefit of the orphaned and destitute women and children in war torn areas of France. This tradition spread to Canada, The United States and Australia and is still followed today. The money collected from the sale of poppies goes to fund various veterans programs.
In essence, Memorial Day is a day to remember not only the war heroes of the past and present who died to give us freedom and rights, but our own family members who served and passed on after serving. My own father served in the Korean War and Vietnam, and passed away in 1988 of heart disease. He was a Chief Master Sgt. in the USAF, and I spend every memorial day thinking of him. So this year, in between the picnics, the racecars, the ice cold beers and the traffic jams (drive safe!!!), take a moment to buy a Poppy from the old man at the card table in front of your favorite store (or buy several), and take a moment to remember our heroes. Leave flowers on the graves of soldiers, fly the flag at half-mast, wear your poppy with pride, and attend your local Memorial Day parade or ceremony.
Don't let the ones who suffered for our freedom and our country be forgotton, and don't let their battle cries get muffled by the pages of history. Remember, and be thankful.
About the Author
Stephanie Davies is a 27 year old Missourian with a loving husband and an 8 year old son.
She currently owns her own business, Mystickal Incense & More, and sells handmade candles, incense, bath & body products and
more at http://www.mystickalincense.com
article re-published 12 July 2006