I, like everyone else, plan to take advantage of the three day ‘holiday.’ I’m having my family over for barbecue. But as I watched –as I do every year — the PBS Memorial Day Concert (and shed tears as I also do every year), I also worry we are losing the meaning of the day when someone says, “Have a Happy Memorial day.”
I remember as a child and even as a young adult buying the artificial red poppies on or about Memorial Day from VFW members to benefit veterans and their families. I miss those poppies worn so proudly by almost everyone. I miss the parades of proud veterans and military bands.
And so, as always, I ran to the internet to pick up a little history. Mary gave you some. I’ll add a little bit.
As you known, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginning with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Ironically, it might well have evolved from organized groups of women in the south who decorated the graves of their Civil War dead. A hymn, published in 1867,”Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping,” is dedicated “to the Ladies of the South who are decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”
Whether or not that inspired women in other towns and states is not known but, according to one history, “it is most 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.”
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and it was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery. What was important about the observance was that it was not about division. It was about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all the northern states. The south refused to recognize the day until after World War I when the holiday was changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own 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.”
It was Moina Michael who conceived of the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. The practice spread to other countries. In the United States, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. I know some of you mentioned them in comments in Mary’s blog. I haven’t seen those poppies in many a year.
I’ve watched as the traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in 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.”
So today, Memorial Day, I plan to watch the President place a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and later I’ll pause with my family at 3 p.m. to thank those who have paid such a large price to protect our country.
I just wish I could buy those poppies again.