Remembering Memorial Day

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Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., a day set aside for honoring soldiers who have died in service for our country.

Maybe I’m growing a bit more patriotically sentimental as I age because this year, I find myself drawn to the history of the holiday, to its original meaning and to the ways in which it is ignored by a large part of the population.

Perhaps I feel caught up by the recent human catastrophes here in America at the Boston Marathon and closer to home for me, the tragic loss of life in Moore, Oklahoma.  Both events make me want to hug everyone and wish them well.  To paraphrase Maya Angelou, both Boston and Moore cause me to contemplate the regular moments during our days when we should come together regardless of skin color, religious preference or sexual orientation as one people under God.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m more aware of Memorial Day this year because I’m generally more aware.  I’d like to think so.

A historical perspective

President Lyndon Johnson declared in May of 1966 that Waterloo, NY, was the birthplace of Decoration Day (the original name for Memorial Day).  However, it is more likely than many cities and towns in the 1860’s established a tradition of placing flowers on graves to honor servicemen who had died during wars.

I tend to agree that there was a simultaneous gathering of folks that “tapped into the general human need to honor our dead,” as the website called usmemorialday.org states.

General John Logan, commander of the  Grand Army of the Republic decreed the first Decoration Day as May 30, 1868.  After World War I, the holiday was changed from honoring only those who had died while serving int he Civil War to those who fought and died in any war.  Interestingly, several southern states still observe separate dates to honor their Confederate dead.

Then, in 1971, Congress changed the Memorial Day observation from May 30 to the last Monday in May so that it became a federal three-day holiday weekend.

We do so love our long weekends.

Putting the observation back in Decoration Day

I grew up with my parents “decorating graves.”  I also grew up believing that Memorial Day was for placing flowers on any loved ones grave.

Plus, as long as I’ve been old enough to notice, the three-day weekend symbolized the start of summer and celebrated my youngest niece’s birthday on the 28th.

I might catch a news story about honoring soldiers and I’d think, “That’s nice.”  Sadly, I’m one of the many who no longer gives Memorial Day much more than a passing thought.

Until this year.

At some point today, I’m going to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of what it means to have soldiers die for this country.  I’m going to think about the precious gift of freedom.  And then, at 3 p.m.local time, I’ll observe a moment of respectful silence, as suggested by President Bill Clinton when he passed the National Moment of Remembrance resolution in May of 2000.

It’s really the least I can do.

Photo courtesy of kconnors

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