Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, A Day for Remembering, Honoring and Reflecting

Today is the day we celebrate Memorial Day by law. I think celebrate is a poor choice of words, in that what this holiday stands for is to honor the fallen military heroes of wars.

From we can track the history and traditions of this day. What started simply as women trying to decorate the war dead then grew to a national movement, then to a holiday to start summer, and a forgotten reason for the day.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

As I said, most people have forgotten the real meaning of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was earlier called and think it is about honoring all dead. It is for honoring the men and women of the military.

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To 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.

The Moment of Remembrance is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day. What is needed is a full return to the original day of observance. Set aside one day out of the year for the nation to get together to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to their country.

Maybe, instead of beginning Summer, we should just take one day to remember our Fallen Heroes. Instead of having a 3 day weekend to "celebrate" Memorial Day, we should go back to the original May 30th date and have the one day just to Honor our Fallen Heroes.

Check out the Restore Traditional Memorial Day site to learn more and help honor our heroes if you would like.

I hope you have a great day, don't forget to thank a Soldier for your freedom, and their service, and take the time at 3:00 your local time to pause and reflect for a Moment of Remembrance.


Fran said...

I always cringe at the sale ads festooned with Red White & Blue, some how mixing up Memorial Day with a day to shop & consume.

I once came upon a Luminaria ceremony @ a cemetery & it was quite beautiful, the silent dark cemetary, with the warm glow of all those candles in a soft golden light.

Something about the candle light that gives hope & light. Too many lives have been lost, and I hope we have the humanity in us to figure out a way to stop having wars.

Matt Osborne said...

Best song ever for Memorial Day: