Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide


On the Bright Side

Memorial Day is coming up and for many of us, the three-day Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer activities like picnics, swimming, vacations and summer softball. It may be the weekend you start on your yard work or plant the flower boxes; it may be a good time for a long motorcycle ride or a long session on the chaise lounge with a good book. It can still be pretty cool in the mountains but it's still a weekend that many like to go camping for the first time in the year.  

This year may be especially celebratory considering that things are opening up and family and friends' get-togethers and barbecues are more possible thanks to the vaccines that have been taken by many of us. 

But along with all the celebration of summer sun and fun things to do, the Memorial Day Weekend (or the actual calendar day) should also be what it was intended to be - a time to remember those who have died in the service of our country. 

From my research I've learned that no one really knows exactly when or where Memorial Day (officially known as Decoration Day) really started. Over two dozen cities claim to have been the first with remembrance rituals, but there isn't one that is universally agreed upon. 

Women's groups in the South started decorating Confederate graves before the Civil War ended, but Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The first official observance of the day was later that month (May 30, 1868), when flowers were placed on both Union and Confederate soldiers' graves in Arlington National Cemetery.   

It wasn't until after World War I that the holiday was changed from just honoring those who fought and died in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who had died in all wars.  

In 1915, Moina Michael wrote a poem in response to the well known "In Flanders Field." It goes like this: "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." It was her idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day to honor the war dead and to sell them to benefit servicemen in need. 

In 1968, a hundred years after Memorial Day was officially proclaimed and observed, Congress changed the official day to the last Monday in May, thereby ensuring a three-day weekend for us all.   

For many of us, while we're having our Memorial Day fun on Monday, it's hard to imagine living through a war like the Civil War or either of the world wars, or even the conflicts going on right now in the Middle East. Life is basically good for us now (and getting better as things are starting to open up). Sure, we still have soldiers all over the world, but we don't like to think about that too much. It's easier not to. 

It's easy to take our freedoms for granted, and hard and not altogether pleasant to remember that that freedom was won and kept with the blood of fellow Americans. It's hard for us to imagine, even in our current troubled times, that those names on the walls or the tombstones are names of people much like ourselves; it is also hard for us to imagine being willing to die so that others can keep having picnics and parades. 

I'm asking you to stop for a few minutes today and remember the men and women (and service animals) who have given their lives so that you can have the good life you now have. And while you're taking those few minutes, remembering, I also ask you to say a prayer of thanks for those souls who died for you. And I ask you to make a promise to keep the ideals of freedom for all Americans alive so that their sacrifices will not have been in vain. 

© Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer/photographer and owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].