Memorial Day-My dad was a veteran of WWII. He did not die as many did, the very reason we celebrate Memorial Day, for those who gave their lives. My dad, like so many carried the guilt, the pain the hurt of fallen comrades. I never take the sacrifice lightly. This is the second of two articles this weekend on Memorial Day and one that appeared in numerous papers a few years ago.
A few years ago, while my oldest grandson was playing baseball, I took my then, 2 year old grandson for a walk. Jacob and I wandered about a cemetery. Down hills, around trees, just walking. (Even treed a raccoon!) Anywhere else, it would have been just that…a walk. But walking around the stones, the reminder of the frailty of life and the ultimate end to all flesh. “How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” * What occurred to me as I wandered about, was that many of these graves represented lives given up for our country. Men and women who had served our country to protect our freedom. I am a strong believer in sharing the history, the battles and successes, and the essence of what people have given for our freedom. Since that time he and I have wandered other grave yards and I share with him the history, the courage, the bravery of men and women to defend our country.
I had once written a column with regard to my remembrances of the Memorial Day holiday. As a child I was part of a community that had parades and barbecues and remembered well, those who had died in our nation’s service. In that column I referred to the poppy flowers that were sold as “cheap” paper flowers that my father and grandfather never passed by. A reader took me to task for using the word cheap. She sent me articles and references. I apologized to her and to others for any offense, I might have caused. Liberty is not cheap. (I had meant the quality and not the reason, but I still apologized.)
My dad was a veteran of World War II. Like many he paid a price. (Even as I write this, today would have been his birthday.) When he died he left behind 2 Purple Hearts. My Dad was proud to have served his country. He lost many friends. (One of his Purple Hearts was the result of injury while losing a buddy in a foxhole.) He was a soldier, through and through. My memories included that he never passed a wounded veteran without speaking to him. And no matter how the artificial red poppies looked, he always gave his money and tied it to the rear view mirror. My grandfather was the same way. And the two of them always reminded you that the cost of freedom had a high cost. They felt that the injuries they incurred were “worth the price” for freedom. (Only this week, my brother-in-law returned after his 3rd time in the Middle East. My wife is relieved. He has “shared” that peace over there is not really “peace.”)
At last year’s memory of Memorial Day, standing along a parade route. In the distance we could hear the High School band and the crackle of police walkie-talkies. The excitement grew as the parade neared our vantage point. With blue lights flashing, a young man rounded the corner onto Route 16 in his patrol car, clad in his Ray-Ban’s and a proud smile, he blipped the siren signaling the last few pedestrians to get to the sidewalk. Behind him the rumble of a 30’s something-or-other roadster, and the clickety-clack of a Ford Model-T succumbed to the applause of those of us lining the sidewalk. A round of cheers for the WWII vets, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and those in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wizened faces of historical figures, once young and vibrant, rode by in military pride. Before us, a chapter in the history of the US faded into the distance as the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownies rounded the corner.
For a few moments, I drifted off to my childhood, remembering the white Chevy Biscayne convertible carrying the WWI vets, my dad, a proud WWII and Korean War vet with two purple hearts paraded past his family.
My thoughts quickly returned to reality when I heard the echo of 7 rifles, and then another. It was a very emotional moment for me as I heard the last blast of a 21 gun salute. I thought of all those the had once lay dying on the battle field so that I could walk down my road, free.Whatever you think of this country, I promise you, there are those that have given their lives so that you can read this article. Honor them today by giving thanks for your freedom if you have it.
I remembered my father’s wake like it was yesterday. There lay the body of a man who spent most of his life as a disabled vet. He nearly died, not once, but twice for his country. Sargent Rice from the DAV came that day, to honor my dad. I can hear her voice, “Sargent Johndrow, I salute you.” And they closed the casket forever.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more 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, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
General John A. Logan
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order #11, 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 first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).
Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.
There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. 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. More recently, 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 (the Luminaria Program) And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment Of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec. 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.” May I humbly suggest that we honor those who deserve our honor and our remembrance. And for the families of those who gave their lives for our country, let us keep them in our thoughts.
*James 4:14 NLT