Celebrating Memorial Day

Memorial Day

The long weekend is here. Traditionally, this is the start of the summer season. Pools start to open and people are using their three day weekend to travel to the beach or the mountains. Stores are offering sales for their wares. Grills are warming up for the steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs. Boats on trailers are behind the pick-ups heading to the lake. Race fans are gearing up to head to the tracks. Everyone is thinking what a good time this is.

Some will remember that Memorial Day is more than a day to party, shop or play. They will remember there is a solemn occasion, honoring those men and women of our Armed Forces who paid the ultimate price for their country, maintaining the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.

Memorial Day began on 5 May, 1868 when General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued his General Order No. 11, proclaiming flowers be placed at the headstones of the veterans, Union and Confederate, at Arlington National Cemetery commencing 30 May, 1868. This was an effort to honor the war dead of the Civil War for their sacrifices while attempting to bring the nation back together. After World War I, it was changed from honoring Civil War dead to those who died serving in all wars. In 1915, Moina Michael wrote a poem:

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 conceived to wear red poppy flowers on Memorial Day in honor of those who died in the service of their nation during war. This was picked up in 1922 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and they continue the sale of artificial poppies today.

Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning of the day and the headstones of veterans in many cemeteries are ignored and neglected. Proper flag etiquette for the day has been forgotten. The flag should be flown at half-staff until noon, then raised to full-staff. Fewer and fewer towns and cities hold Memorial Day parades, and those that are held, people don’t know that, as the flag passes, they should stand and place their right hand over their heart, remaining that way until the flag passes.

Even though the importance of Memorial Day wanes for many, there are those who continue honoring those who gave all. Every year, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, members of the 3rd Infantry Division goes to Arlington National Cemetery, placing flags on each grave, then stand guard over the graves until after the day of honor.

During this weekend, take the time to remember why we have these days off. On Memorial Day, at 3PM, observe a moment of remembrance, in your own way. Take the kids to the veterans cemetery in your town, perhaps placing flags on the graves, and teach the meaning of the day. Those veterans who died in the service of their country, our country, who defended us and our freedom, deserve the honor. Freedom isn’t free!

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Erich Dunkelberger

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