Memorial Day Weekend
On the Bright Side
May 27, 2023
This is Memorial Day Weekend, and for many of us the three-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 or horseback ride, or a long session on the chaise lounge with a good book. It can still be pretty cool in our mountains, especially at night, but it's still a weekend that many of us like to go camping for the first time in the year.
But along with all the celebration of longer days and 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.
Researching the weekend online, 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.
It is noted that women's groups in the South started decorating Confederate graves before the Civil War ended, but a formal Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. That first official observance of the Day was on 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, Congress changed the official "day" of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, thereby ensuring a three-day weekend for us all (Memorial Day Weekend).
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 around the world. Life is basically good for us now, in spite of our many day-to-day challenges.
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 who lived and loved 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 hope you enjoy your long weekend, as the pursuit of happiness is something those fellow Americans died defending. I'm also asking you to stop for a few minutes before or after your fun activities 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, I also ask you to say a prayer of thanks for those souls who died for your freedoms, your way of life. 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.
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer/photographer and author of On the Bright Side, a Collection of Columns (available locally at Tehachapi Arts Center and Healthy Hippie Trading Co.), welcomes your comments at email@example.com.