May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: In History, Memory, Quilting, and Deed

Memorial Day in the U.S. is a federal holiday, formerly known as "Decoration Day" a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. 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.

The origins of Memorial Day most likely lie with General John A Logan, a northerner of the Union Army, who 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.

Memorial Day is currently a national holiday celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May. A law passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act, P.L. 90, 363, in 1971 to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays. In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Moina Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women.

This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

In 1948 the US Post Office honored Moina Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it. Since the late 1950'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.

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 22 years ago at the age of 53, as well as the others she has loved in this lifetime.They visited cemeteries in three cities...Stayton, Albany and a small pioneer cemetery, named after my husband's family, near Scio. All of this, in spite of the fact that my MIL is wheelchair bound and has to bee lifted in and out of the car, since she cannot stand.

We all cut whatever flowers and flowering branches we might have in our yards, each year... for her to place on the graves, a lifelong tradition in our family. While in reality, they are doing the placing and she sits in the car and watches. The cemeteries are hundreds of years old, the ground rocky and uneven and hilly. But they park where she might still watch them and they all remember those they have lost...and those that have served.

My own proud veteran father has been gone for almost two years now, but I think of him and bless him for all that he gave our country, to our family, and to me.

Whether we celebrate Memorial Day, Decoration Day on the last Monday in May, here in the US, Remembrance , Armistice ,Or Poppy Day on Nov.11 in the Commonwealth or ANZAC Day on April 25 in New Zealand and Australia....or just a day of remembrance on all of our special days, wherever we live......I simply remember the loss of all who have died in service to our country and thank them .....for all of their places in history, and for all of their places in our own lives.

And I almost always take a few hours to work on patriotic quilts, utility bags for use in our veteran's hospital by bedsides or on wheelchairs, , neck rolls for positioning them in their beds, and sometimes a red or gold star flag for families who have served and families who have lost a loved one.

While my free spirited heart strings quilted quilts shown in this post....need no patterns...just one of those purchased fabric panels that come with four medallions and lots of scraps, my Free Patriotic Quilt Patterns sites both on my primary blog, here...and my Free Quilt and Quilt Blocks Blog found by clicking there, have all of the free patterns for making the bags, neckrolls, and banners.

And for string quilting: String Quilting:Tutorial and Free Patterns

And here are the Directions For Making a Blue or Gold Star Service Banner

Happy Memorial Day, and many thanks and blessings to those families who have served our country as patriots.

Please become a follower at my primary blog: With Heart and Hands
as all patterns, posts, and memories, are updated here.

Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join in the Liberated Quilting Challenge and make or donate small art quilts to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!


Lynne said...

Thank you for that post - it was interesting to read about the history of the day uniquely celebrated in USA. WE, in Australia, remember our "fallen" on 25th April: ANZAC Day (a national holiday). Schools and some other institutions also hold a minutes silence on Remembrance Day (11 Nov) but it is not a national holiday.

BTW, one of my ancestors (an uncle a few generations back) emigrated from Ireland to USA and died in the Civil War when he was hit by a musket ball. He was the only one from his family that went to America; all others either stayed in Ireland or emigrated to Australia. So I have links to Memorial Day too.

Michele Bilyeu@ With Heart and Hands said...

Wow, Lynne!

What a story about your great great great or whatever uncle! Gosh that is something! We have several shows here that trace ancestry and tell the stories of famous celebrities ancestors and things like this are revealed..and its so interesting and yet so sad at the same time!!!!


SewCalGal said...

What a wonderful post Michelle.


julieQ said...

Happy memorial day Michelle! I remember so well those red poppies twisted into the grim of my dad's hat, he was a ww2 vet...

Michele Bilyeu said...

Julie, We even had those in Alaska back in the 50's and 60's and 70's..and I loved them! We would buy them from the Lions, or Eagles, or Elks..we have a lot of 'wildlife' in Alaska ;) for 10 cents! Oh, I wish I'd saved one of the original ones!!!

Stacey said...

Hi Michele. Thank you so much for your lovely memorial day posting. I wanted to share with you my blog posting of today because it is very relevant. Right now I am visiting my daughter who lives in a sweet little town in England. Her husband is in the United States Air Force and they are here for three years. It was my pleasure, well actually my heartfelt duty, to find a special place here at the Abbey Gardens and honor all those who served their countries.

Please take a moment and take a peek.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know any of this history. It and your quilts and activities are so wonderful. Thank you for all of it and the free pattern links. You are amazing.

Betty Lou said...

Very nice post, Michelle. May we never forget.

quiltmom anna said...

Here in Canada we honor our veterans in November on Remembrance Day. It is a school holiday if falls on a week day. We also make paper poppies and read In Flanders Fields by Dr. John McCrae. He was a Canadian doctor who served in the first world war.. I enjoyed reading your post about how Memorial Day came about and its particular importance. I knew that many Americans would go to tend their family cemeteries on this day. My American cousins often go to visit their loved ones who have passed on and to tidy their resting places. I love the heart wallhangings Michele-
Wishing you and yours a wonderful day of reflection and celebration of those who served to keep peace in this world of ours.
Regards, Anna

Unknown said...

Beautiful quilts!

Sharon said...

Thank you for a wonderful post! I knew only part of the history of Memorial Day, so this was great!

And what wonderful quilts you show! I didn't know that you offer so many free patterns. Thank you! I'll be sure to take a look.