Thoughts on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, it marks the beginning of summer. To others, it is a time to gather with family and friends and have a cookout. For others it is a long weekend and a time to hit the road for a quick vacation. – And all of those things are okay.

To others, it is indeed, a time of Memorial. A time to pay tribute and honor our fallen heroes. Sometimes that part gets lost in the shuffle.

The concept behind this specific holiday is simple: “Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.” (link) (Contrast to Veterans Day in November, which is to recognize all who served.) It’s birth came from the tradition of decorating the graves of loved ones who had passed on, but really became a more organized thing when the more than 600,000 people died during the Civil War. The cemeteries filled, and National military cemeteries were created to accommodate the loss.

The first large “Decoration Day” service was held in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, three years after the Civil War ended. Gradually the name morphed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.

I have been to Arlington Cemetery. It is an awesome and somber place to visit. The white markers that stretch across the green grass seem endless. Each one representing someone who gave their life in the service of our country. And yet, those countless graves represent merely a fraction of those who have died for us.

It is mind-numbing:

A million people. I don’t even know what that looks like. Stranger still, I do not personally know anyone who died in our Nation’s service. Imagine that! Sure, I have friends and family who have fought in the service of our country, but they all survived.

Contrast that with those who lived in the Civil War era. During the Civil War, there were only about 31 million Americans, yet 620,000 died because of the war. Everyone must have known someone who died. Having walked through the Gettysburg Battlefield multiple times, I can only describe it as a “spiritual” experience.

While not personally knowing any of the fallen may make it less ‘personal’ to me, it also makes it more awe-inspiring that so many would give their all to fight for our cause and country – even a country of strangers.

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I am one of those who enjoy such privileges. The gratitude we feel should be deep enough to be stirring. It should exist beyond party or politics. It should be part of who we are. If not, we have lost something important.

Tomorrow I will fly the flag in our front yard. I will take some time to think about these things.

Congress passed an act in 2000 that “encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the Nation.” (link)

I’ve set an alarm on my phone to do just that. I invite you to join me.

The perfect Memorial Day scripture? John 15:13.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Extras:

Here is a nice explanation of flag etiquette – something that is sorely lacking these days. (link)

Original order creating Memorial Day in 1868. (link)

Interesting tidbit: On Memorial Day, a flag displayed on a flagpole should be fully raised, then lowered to half-staff – but only until Noon, when it should be fully raised again.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. I remember going to the local cemetary in Fillmore, UT, with my family and grandparents, to put flowers on lots of graves. I remember that my grandmother’s brother died in WWI. Important to remember the commitment, indeed the total commitment, of those who have fallen. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thanks for the post. I’m purposely indexing military records this weekend in honor of those those who have served. I might also try to add more sources to my two distant cousins that died at Pearl Harbor now that I finally found them. These are just a couple small ways I’m trying to make this a meaningful day of remembrance and I’ll join you for that moment of silence as well.

  3. The civil war is not the correct words to use. War between the states is correct because the confederate states of America were trying to create their seperate country. A civil war is when two opposing factions are fighting over one government. The CSA had its own constitution. The CSA’s purpose was to maintain and expand the enslavement of humans.
    So many of those deaths during that war happened to enemies of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

      • Soldiers of the CSA were enemies of the USA and its constitution. The CSA did start this war, causing the large amount of suffering and death. All monuments, flags, and anything attached to the CSA should be cleansed from this promised land.

          • I just wanted to thank you for your defense of not desecrating historical monuments. History happened whether we like it or not. There has been deliberate destruction of awesome historical sites in many places in the world and it makes me beyond sad that it has now happened in the United States of America where we have traditionally had respect for opposing viewpoints. I am from the north but have studied the uncivil war extensively–It is WAY more complicated than saying the south only wanted to “maintain and expand the enslavement of humans”. Let’s just love and forgive each other. (Btw, over 50 other countries ended slavery in the 1800’s WITHOUT the loss of over 1/2 million of their people–just sayin…)

        • I completely agree with disagreeing….if we erase all remnants of what happened, we erase the history. then we will eventually find ourselves reliving those mistakes. I don’t agree with celebrating the primary reason that the CSA went to war, but their arguments are still valid today when it comes to the principle of state vs. Fed. Our current political climate is exactly like it was 160 years ago, maybe even worse, and the reasons are not that much different.
          Additionally, there were very honorable men on both sides. Robert E Lee was a far superior general than anyone in the Union. He chose family over country. Unfortunately, he chose the side that was doomed to failure no matter how brilliant he was. I think it was Elisha that showed us who else was fighting from across the veil.
          On the other hand, Philip St. George Cooke, yes the Mormon Battalion Cooke, chose country over family, and lost his children and grandchildren because of it. Even his rebel son-in-law, JEB Stuart, became more famous than he did, and the Union always suspected him of not being fully loyal to his oath because he lost a battle, that was lost before it even started.
          If we remove everything attached to the CSA from our history, we remove what I consider the most sacred piece of secular real estate in the country. He wasn’t happy when it happened, but I believe that today, Robert E Lee has some satisfaction that his land and home is the final resting place of so many of America’s defenders and even an assassinated president.

  4. In addition to the 3 pm moment of Remembrance: Our President has also asked us to pause at 11:00 am local time to pray for permanent peace. I saw the official letter in an email at work…sorry I don’t have the link for you but there’s another opportunity to honor the Day together as fellow Americans.

  5. Thank you for this timely reminder. My father was too young to serve, but both of his older brothers served, one in post war Germany, and the other in Korea. My father in law spent WWII at Ft. Kearns, Utah, and ended up marrying a Mormon girl and joining the church. My mother’s brother was a Marine and served in communications. My older brother was a career National Guard RN and administrator, serving in Fort Knox, Germany, Korea, Panama and at the Pentagon. My younger brother served in the Gulf War as a hospital administrator, later going on to med school and becoming an Army Emergency Room Physician. He was part of the first medical group sent to the Pentagon on 9/11, where his older brother was posted. Blessedly, his older brother was working in a different location that day and has since retired. My oldest son joined the Army Reserves and served part time, until he was sent to Iraq. He is still in the Reserves. With great blessings, all of the servicemen in our family have remained whole and healthy through their service to our country. We feel so blessed. to have them return to us. My heart bleeds for those who did not return, or returned wounded in body or mind. I will be at Murray Cemetery on Memorial Day, leaving flowers and love, and listening for the bagpiper who slowly walks, playing the plaintive tunes as we remember.

  6. As a child, I only knew this day as Decoration Day. My cousins and I would go with our grandma to the cemetery to “decorate” the graves of those who had gone before us. Not just those that had served us as members of the military but those who served us as family members. That was always the time when the peonies would be blooming in Nebraska and that is what we would take. The smell of those flowers always reminds me of that time. I found it interesting that somehow this post got hijacked into a “discussion” of the Civil War, War Between the States, or War of Northern Aggression or whatever you want to call it. I have ancestors who fought on both sides of that battle and I can understand why each side felt so strongly. What I think should be remembered is that ultimately we as a country came through that time stronger and eventually united.

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