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Memorial Day 2022

On the Bright Side

This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend, a time for most of us that – never mind the crazy weather we've been having – signals the beginning of summer activities like picnics, parades and vacations. It may be the first weekend of the year that you plan to go camping; it may be the weekend you plant the flower boxes or test ride the chaise lounge with a good summer read. It may signal the last weekend you have to get rid of all those weeds that are a fire hazard.

Somehow, though, along with all the fun and/or necessary outdoor things to do, Memorial Day Weekend should also include a little of what this particular holiday was intended for - a time to remember those who have died in the service of our country.

The tradition of honoring fallen soldiers is an old one in the United States, but no one really knows exactly when or where the idea really started (over two dozen cities claim to have been the first with remembrance rituals, but there isn't one that is agreed upon universally). We do know that women's groups in the South started decorating Confederate graves before the Civil War ended.

Then on May 5, 1868, a "Decoration Day" was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and the first official observance was later that month (May 30) when flowers were placed on both Union and Confederate soldiers' graves in Arlington National Cemetery.

After World War I the holiday was changed from honoring only those who fought and died in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who had died in wars, and in 1915 red ribbons became a part of Memorial Day celebrations, thanks to Moina Michael. She wrote a poem in response to the well known "In Flanders Field," that said, "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." The red ribbon substituted for the red poppy.

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 most of us.

And while we're enjoying a day off and having our cookouts this Monday, it may be hard to imagine living through a war like the Civil War, or either of the world wars. In fact, it may be hard to remember that war is raging right now in the Ukraine and that, like people in this country, people in other countries value their freedoms so much they too are willing to fight and die for them.

It's not always easy or pleasant to remember that the freedoms we enjoy today were won and kept with the blood of fellow Americans. When the sun is shining and our bellies are full of hot dogs and hamburgers, it's hard to remember that names on walls and military tombstones are the names of real people like ourselves and our neighbors, who fought and died on our behalf.

I'm asking you to stop for a few minutes this weekend and take the time to remember the men and women who have given their lives so that you can have the freedoms you now have. I urge you to think about what it means, too, and to think about what you would be willing to do - or do without - to keep the freedoms you have. In these uncertain times, it may come to that yet, as it has so recently to others.

And while you're at it, perhaps take a few moments to remember what the American spirit of freedom means – along with our ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, plus truth and justice for all -- so that the sacrifices of our family, friends and neighbors will not have been in vain.

And maybe recommit yourself to those ideals and working for peace so that fewer sacrifices will be necessary in the future.

© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer/photographer who has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].