It has now been 147 years since Decoration Day was first celebrated. I wish I had been more interested in things like this when I was in school, but it’s never too late to learn. Decoration Day was an attempt to bring healing to a broken and battered country. Back in 1868, General Logan and around 5,000 citizens chose that day to place flowers on the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Our country had spent several years fighting (1861-1865) the Civil War, and Decoration Day was a way to honor all of our fallen soldiers, regardless of the side on which they fought. Did you know that? It’s all too easy to forget the important celebrations and reasons for celebrating. I found Doc Hastings’ words after a conversation with friends in other countries about Memorial Day when one teacher friend said, “My kids always ask me why Americans have barbecues on Memorial Day. That’s a tough one to explain when it’s so different here.” It should be so different here, too, I believe.
The emails leading up to the three day weekend known as Memorial Day are all about grills–recipes for grilling foods, discounts for purchasing new grills, and how-to’s for designing your own grill station. Memorial Day and food go hand in hand in my country, a country I love. A few years ago, the local Exchange Club began honoring fallen soldiers with an enormous and beautiful field of flags for the holiday weekend. The first year they were on display, I stood and watched the waving flags with tears rolling down my face in one of the most emotional responses I have had to Memorial Day. There is a lot to remember, and there are a lot of people to be remembered.
Remembering someone who died in service to my country is difficult because I’ve really never known anyone who died in combat. Grieving for families who have lost members in war isn’t difficult for me at all, though. In another country on Memorial Day, you can hear the list of names of everyone who has fallen since 1948 read aloud on one of the television channels. How sobering to be reminded how many lives have been lost in a country’s fight for freedom, independence, and any other reason countries choose to go to war. If I had lost someone in war, I would remember them, and I would want you to remember their names.
My father did not die in combat, but he did fight in the Korean War. He died 20 years ago, and I remember him. I remember my daddy every May, the month he died, every July 14th, the day of his birth, and every time I am looking for wise counsel he would be able to offer. I remember him. Whom do you remember?
Finishing my notes for a Memorial Day article, I spoke with a friend who journeys every year to place flowers on the graves of family members from several generations. She began doing this as a child, continued through the teenage years by parental persuasion, and has shared the tradition as an adult with her own children. They remember people they’ve loved and family who lived and died before them. They remember.
Whom will you remember? In an effort to embrace what Decoration Day was designed to be, maybe this year on the last Monday of May you might take time to remember some special people: those who died as young men and women serving our country, and those in our own families who are simply no longer here. Honor them all by remembering them, but begin with our military.