A Time to Remember . . .

I loved Mary’s pictures yesterday and her blog about Memorial Day yesterday.   I wanted to add a few thoughts.
I can’t tell you how many people this weekend said, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’
And I wondered each time why.  “Happy” doesn’t seem to fit what the day is meant to be.

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.

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11 thoughts on “A Time to Remember . . .”

  1. Patricia, thanks for an insightful post! I will keep in mind 3PM.

    My uncle died in WWII. I never met him but I too wonder about people saying “Happy Memorial Day.” My husband says it is because it has been reduced to a “sale” holiday not a holy day.

    Peace, Julie

  2. Thank you for the interesting post. My father, a WWII veteran always said it was a day to not only honor the Veterans but to honor those who kept the home fires burning.

  3. Thanks, Pat, for a great followup to Mary’s post of yesterday. You both provided some wonderful history, much I didn’t know, so appreciate each and every word. I’d forgotten about the paper poppies. I’m happy to say that our town celebrates Memorial Day with the laying of wreathes and American flags at the cemeteries, along with VFW and American Legion ceremonies.

    My Uncle Victor C. Johnson lost his leg in WWII and died way too young consquently. My daddy was in the Army Air Corp but didn’t see overseas action. They are two of my heros, which include a niece and nephew who served in the Navy and most of all my wonderful DH, Bob, who served in Viet Nam. My love and appreciate goes out to each and every serviceman and woman (and let’s not forget the families waiting for them at home) whether their service was of yesteryear or today. Without them, we’d not have the freedom as a county we enjoy today.

  4. I wanted to let you know there are still places that sell the poppies. Our local VFW had someone in front of our local grocery store so I now have one of the poppies in front of me to help me remember!

  5. Pat, Thank you for a wonderful post. As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, They still sell poppies where my Dad lives in Northern NY State. When I was up cleaning his apartment earlier this year while he was in the hospital, I picked up dozens of them on his desk and all around the apartment.
    We watched the concert on PBS last night as we always do, both times. My husband said it was the best they have done. The personal stories were heart wrenching. We so easily forget how good our lives are and who helps keep them that way.

    All the boys in my Dad’s family served in the military. One was killed in Korea and the local reserve center is named after him. Most of the boys in my Mom’s family also served during WWII. My DH served 4 tours over Vietnam in B 52s. I am so thankful the families of servicemen and women have community support. It was hard enough during the Vietnam War to be worrying about your loved one being injured or killed. It was made all the harder with the anti-war feelings in the country that were aimed at the servicemen and their families. I was actually antiwar (don’t ask how an antiwar Peace Corps volunteer ended up a military wife. Friendship and love don’t care about things like that.), but that was something to be directed towards the politicians and generals, not the poor soldier in the field being shot at.

    One of the local communities changed their Memorial Day celebration a bit. They had the usual parade, wreath laying, etc. Then they shifted tone. It became a celebration of the lives of those in the community who had given their lives for their country. Not a time to be sad, but rather a time to be thankful for who they were and what they gave us.

    We were privileged to attend the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery one year. We have a National Cemetery here also and have attended several times. It is very difficult to listen to taps. We have both attended too many military funerals, including my husband’s father’s at Arlington.

    I hope everyone has enjoyed the time with their families.

  6. The VFW post in my little town sell the red poppies the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. I have one on the buckle of my purse now.

  7. This is another thank you for the insightful post. I, too, find “Happy Memorial Day” an inappropriate phrase. The town I grew up in still has their annual Memorial Day Parade. When I was in high school a sophmore boy would be chosen to recite the Gettysburg Address and a sophmore girl would recite “In Flanders Fields” followed by a presentation by a “Gold Star Mother”. (Do we even have recognitions like “Gold Star Mothers” anymore?) But “Decoration Day” was more than just a day to recognize our veterans. It was also a day/weekend to decorate the graves of all of our loved ones. Maybe that was because it was spring and the cemeteries were cared for by families of those buried there, the grass needed mowing and winter debris picked up. Whatever the reason it became a time of respectful remembrance and learning about ancestors.

  8. Thank you all for the comments. I can’t even imagine the loss felt by a widow, or a child who grows up without a father.
    I am so glad that some communities still honor their fallen, and the veterans who gave so much, with flags placed at graves, Poppies, and parades.
    I’ll make an effort next year to find those Poppies and wear one proudly.

  9. I’ve stumbled over “happy” and was glad to read your post and the above comments.

    From early childhood, I dutifully accompanied my mother w/ flowers for the graves of our family’s veterans. Most of the men in my family made it home from various wars, although not all were uninjured or long surviving. And there’s the first cousin who died in WWII, five years before I was born. I’m sorry I never knew Billy.

    I pray for them and for all the men and women who have served.

  10. God bless all our troops wherever in the world
    they are. God bless all who have served in the
    military on behalf of our country, especially
    those who made the ultimate sacrifice and all
    their families. God bless America!!

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