As Memorial Day approaches I find myself compelled to publish something on the subject. It is truly sad that to many (probably most) Americans Memorial Day has become "just another day", an opportunity for a three day weekend, the beginning of summer or "the day the pool opens" to the children. Many people "celebrate" this day by going to the beach, cooking out or just relaxing in general. Most will not spend a single moment reflecting on the meaning of this day let alone those it is meant to remember and honor. Most (72% by Gallup poll) do not even know the meaning of the holiday. To that end I present to you my Memorial Day thoughts.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and recognition of those Americans who have died in the service of our great nation. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The traditional observance of Memorial Day has all but disappeared in the last few decades. Most Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of the day and many believe it is a day to remember and honor any and all dead and not just those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Many no longer practice the proper flag etiquette for the day and the graves of the fallen are often neglected. Some traditions, however, do continue today:
- The Thursday before Memorial Day, some 1200 soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), with assistance from members of the other services, place small American flags at the base of each of the more than 300,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery. This tradition of honor, known as "Flags-in," has taken place ever since 1948 when The Old Guard was appointed as the ceremonial unit for the U.S. Army. During the Memorial Day weekend, members of The Old Guard patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day to make sure each grave site remains decorated and honored with a flag. In addition, sentinels for the Tomb of the Unknowns place flags at each of the unknown servicemen graves.
- 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.
- 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.
In 2000, Congress passed a resolution establishing a National Moment of Remembrance which asks Americans, wherever they are, whatever they may be doing at 3pm local time on Memorial Day, to pause for a moment of silence and national unity. President Bill Clinton made the following statement: "In this time of unprecedented success and prosperity throughout our land, I ask that all Americans come together to recognize how fortunate we are to live in freedom and to observe a universal 'National Moment of Remembrance' on each Memorial Day. This memorial observance represents a simple and unifying way to commemorate our history and honor the struggle to protect our freedoms."
I urge everyone to please take some time on this Memorial Day and remember those who have given their lives so that we may live in freedom. Here are some simple things you can do:
- Visit a cemetery and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes
- Visit memorials
- Fly an American flag, at half-staff until noon and full-staff after noon
- If you have children, explain the meaning and purpose of Memorial Day and encourage them to practice some of the traditions
- Stop what you are doing and pause for 60 seconds in remembrance at 3pm on Memorial Day, even if it means pulling the car over to the side of the road, and play Taps if possible
I'll close with a poem entitled "I Stand Before You" written by Roger J. Robicheau (Sp 5, US Army):
I stand before you all today
But not one eye can see my way
My time arrived, to leave this earth
A fact so planned, to every birth
It happened where I had to go I transferred while in uniform
My torch for life was so aglow
Protecting freedom, through a storm
Should I resent I died for you
Not on my life, red white and blue
Please help my family through each day
Tell all my friends, try not to stray
And of the country I did love
Do think of me, through God above
Your memories, brought forth this day
Send love to us, who could not stay
Happy Memorial Day.