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.”
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.