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What Is Memorial Day?

May 29, 2017
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Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 2.51.58 AMIn 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.

Memorial Day is a day to honor our nation’s war dead.  It is not to be confused with Veterans Day.  It began in 1868 as Decoration Day, to honor those who had given their lives for the Grand Army of the Republic.  Eventually, Decoration Day for both the Grand Army of the Republic war dead and Confederate Army war dead were combined. Then, came World War I.

“…Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the grounds,” the traditional term for a potluck meal at a church. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the “memorial day” idea….”

My family is very fortunate.  While we have a long list of those who served, we have no one who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  The first modern Memorial Day celebration appears to have begun in Charleston, on May 1, 1865, when teachers, missionaries, and former black slaves honored 257 Union prisoners of war who died at the Hampton Park Race Course.  Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freed former slaves memorialized the dead.

In 1915, after the Second Battle of Ypres, LTC  John McCrae, with the Canadian Expeditionary Force wrote the poem, In Flander’s Fields.  The following year, inspired by his poem, Monia Michael, pinned a red silk poppy on her jacket.  By 1920 National American Legion adopted the poppy.  In this country, they’ve dumped the tradition, but the Brits still observe it.

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