May 25, 2015

Memorial Day: In History, Memory, 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 flowers to visit the cemeteries where their veteran brother is laid to rest, having died of cancer many, many years ago at the age of 53.They visited cemeteries in three cities...Stayton, Albany and a small pioneer cemetery, named after my husband's family, Bilyeu Den,  near Scio, Oregon.My husband and brother in law who visited this Memorial Day weekend, were able to see all of the flags out. Always such a beautiful sight!

Last weekend, our family visited 5 cemeteries ..all of the members of the Bilyeu family, dating back to pioneer times. What struck them the most was the sheer number of babies and young children dying at birth or in their infancy. But now, of course, it is the sheer number of American flags at so many of the graves from years gone by.

We all cut whatever flowers and flowering branches we might have in our yards, each place on the graves, a lifelong tradition in our family.

And I always, always own father and his four brothers. Members of a five star family. Five brothers all went to war in branches of the military. But only 4 returned home once again when WWII ended.

My own proud veteran father has been gone for almost three years now, but I think of him and bless him for all that he gave our country, to our family, and to me. And I think of his brothers..all gone now, as well. And my heart aches for so many losses. But the loss of my uncle who died in war, shot down at sea, at age very, very sad.

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

My father served as a Warrant Officer on a ship in the Aleutian Islands. He and his fellow officers patrolled the frozen waters off Alaska and transported goods to different bases. He served with great pride and sees it as an important chapter in his life. My dad is one the right in this photo, an uncle on the left, a friend from Douglas in the center.

Mydad met and married his Louisianan pen pal, my Cajun French mother, Nell Grace Pelletier (Peltier),  near the end of the war, by traveling the more than five thousand miles, by car, to meet her, fall in love, and marry her. The whole decade of the 1940's changed his life in many ways, forever. It set a course in destiny for him and for our family, than cannot be over emphasized.

The memory quilt that I made for my dad in 2008 was a WWII  patriotic one, very simply designed, bold but with softened colors ,and with large photo transfers of himself, his family and my mother. The photos are super sized because my mother was legally blind for the last 10 years of her life and could only see things when they are enlarged with high contrast, and then with a magnifying glass for the details. Several of the photos are of her, as WWII was when they first met, fell in love, and got married.

I used a variation I worked out from the idea of a 'Turning Twenty' pattern. Instead of 20 blocks, I used a repeating pattern of nine (wasn't up to piecing 90!) But they are turned and twisted to be an original version. The turning and the twisting is symbolic, I think, of conflict of any kind, but especially conflict that leads to change. Life and death are major aspects of such change, but in a way birthdays are as well, so this quilt was a birthday gift a few years before he passed away.

                                                                Early Douglas, Alaska

 *** In Memory ***

My father, Bernhart, and my uncles, Albert, Robert, Herbert, and  Elmer Savikko, of Douglas, Alaska, are all gone now. I know my own loss of my father and my uncles. But just imagine their mother and father's loss of their son, Albert, during WWII, at only 21 years of age.

Five sons went to war, but only four sons were to return. They lived with worry when all five boys were away, but when that fate filled telegraph was received and delivered by hand at their doortstep that one son, was lost at sea and presumed drowned..well, I can only imagine...

  *** In Memory ***

My youngest uncle, Albert, died during battle in the Pacific Theater (meaning during WWII in that area of the world). He was the co-captain of a plane that was shot down at sea. His captain was so severely injured that my Uncle Albert, though himself wounded,  took control of the plane and safely
landed it in the Pacific Ocean, saving the lives of the crew who survived and were later rescued. Albert H. Savikko died at 21 years of age.

   *** In Memory ***

My Uncle  Robert (Bobby) Savikko , of Douglas, Alaska,  survived the war as did the other 3 brothers, but then died in 1972, drowned while returning from a moose hunting trip to Taku Harbor. He and another young man were in one boat leaving earlier than my father and others in another boat.
When my father's boat returned to Douglas, it was to learn that my uncle Bobby, and their young hunting companion had most likely taken on water with so much moose meat on board, during ocean swells, and drowned. That's my beloved uncle on the far left as a young man growing up in a pioneer family in Alaska..and that's Mendenall Glacier in the background ..along with my dad, another uncle and my Alaskan grandparents.

20 years later, a beach comber walking our beloved Sandy Beach on Savikko Park, named in honor of my uncle Robert Savikko, discovered his wallet. Washed ashore with ID intact, they contacted the local authorities who returned it decades later to my Aunt and their 3 children who lost their father as young teens. 

I had only been married a few months, with my aunt and uncle at the wedding, in Alaska, and their young daughter, my 11 year old cousin as one of my bridesmaids. Oh, my uncle Bobby was so very proud to see her walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid. He died just a few months later, another uncle lost as sea. This uncle was a talented artist, commercially fished with my dad and their brothers, and worked for a freight company the rest of the time. He was a smart, funny, witty, caring man and I miss him, still.

*** In Memory **

My Father Ben, with his brother Hjalmer Savikko during WWII
My Uncle Hjalmer visited our home in Douglas from his home in North Douglas (now called West Juneau which is very silly to me as it is on Douglas Island just north of Douglas!) every single weekend, bring us fresh fish as he was a life long commercial fisherman. He never had children of his own but loved all of his brother's children, as if they were his own. I miss him, still, along with my father and all of my uncles, now all long gone.That is Hjal on the right, my father on the left, and below, my grandparents with my dad and another uncle, Elmer..below.  That is their first home on Douglas Island behind them.

*** In Memory ***

Whether we celebrate Memorial Day, Decoration Day, or just a day of remembrance....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.


Quilting Notes:

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.

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

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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.

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