Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day: Flags, Flowers and Remembrance

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Memorial Day in the U.S. is a federal holiday, formerly known as "Decoration Day." We set out flags and flowers, we visit cemeteries, and we remember all of those who served our country. The first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at a race track in Charleston, South Carolina. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. A parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.

General John A Logan, a northerner of the Union Army, was so impressed by the way that the South honored their fallen soldiers that he decided the northern states needed a similar day. Reportedly, Logan said that it was most fitting, since the Greeks, had honored their heroes with laurel and flowers, that the grave of every soldier in this land be decorated on a special day and, if he could, he would have made it a holiday.

On May 5, 1868 in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization, Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year. Due to lingering hostility after the Civil War, many southern states did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I although the name Memorial Day" was first used in 1882.

Given its origins in the American Civil War, Memorial Day is not a holiday outside the United States. Countries of the Commonwealth, as well as France and Belgium, honor members of the military who died in war on or around Remembrance Day(November 11). The United States uses that date as Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) and honors all veterans, living and dead.

Today, many Americans use Memorial Day weekend to also honor family members who have passed away. Church services on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day may include a reading of the names of members who have died during the previous 12 months. The southeastern United States continues to celebrate Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of all family members, and it is not reserved for those who served in the military and this is usually celebrated the week before the official Memorial Day Weekend.

This year, my husband and his brother continued their yearly tradition of bringing my mother-in-law to visit the cemeteries where her veteran son is laid to rest, having died of cancer at age 53, and both of the dear men she has loved in this lifetime, my father-in-law who died 19 years ago at age 83, and her late in life love who died this past year at age 90.

Three men, at different ages, all lovingly remembered by a mother and a wife, who had to be lifted from her nursing home bed, with great difficulty, into a wheelchair, into her car and driven to watch as her sons placed flowers from her own yard at their grave sites. It will probably be the last time she is able to do this, and it was very, very hard for her...but she still wanted to and managed to.

I always celebrate the occasion with making something patriotic, even as simple as these little flags that I simply serged the edges of from patriotic fabric and strung in the wisteria vines on my back deck.I thought of my own uncle, shot down at sea while flying his fighter plane during WWII, and I thought of those who shot him down, as well. I can only feel love now for all of these I have known and those I have never met. It is a still a loss, a pain in the heart for all who suffer loss.

Whether we celebrate Memorial Day, Decoration Day, or just a day of remembrance....I simply remember the loss and thank them .....for all of their places in history, and for all of their places in our lives.