Please don’t wish me a happy Memorial Day. Please don’t thank me for my service today. Today isn’t about celebrating the first weekend of the Summer Session or fantastic deals at the mall. Today is a memorial service, a funeral of sorts.
Let me explain.
Today, I went to the Victorville Memorial Park as requested by my American Legion post to participate in the Memorial Day ceremony. While waiting for it to begin, I had a conversation with Rene De La Cruz, a reporter for the Victor Valley Daily Press. We discussed the meaning of the day and the “celebrations” we saw, and frankly, we found it a little disturbing.
We have three holidays to honor our military. Veteran’s Day, a day of giving thanks and honor to those who have served during all of the wars and conflicts. Armed Forces’ Day, a day to celebrate and encourage those currently on active duty, a holiday that is largely forgotten. And Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate price and gave their life in service to us, the people of the United States of America.
Memorial Day came out of the Civil War. General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, gave this order: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
He called it Decoration Day and chose the date because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. And at the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield (and future President) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. That day 5,000 came to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The day became alternately known as both Decoration Day and Memorial Day, the name was not official until 1968. It was fixed to the last Monday in May, rather than the 30th, in 1971.
Okay, history lesson over.
For me, Memorial Day is a somber day. A day I approach with a tear in my eye and a heavy heart.
I remember as a child, there were friends whose fathers, uncles and older brothers didn’t come home from Vietnam.
I remember friends and colleagues that didn’t come home from Desert Storm, during my time on active duty.
I remember friends whose sons and daughters, brother and sisters, wives and husbands haven’t come home from the current conflicts.
I remember my great-grandfathers, who served in World War I. Great-grandpa Kimball, my maternal grandmother’s father, never made it home, he was one of the many soldiers and sailors who died in the flu pandemic at the end of war. He died and was buried at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia (His last “duty station” was my first.) Great-grandpa Nelson, my maternal grandmother’s step-father, was a shipmate of Great-grandpa Kimball’s and told wonderful stories about him.
Great-grandpa Nelson, “Gramps” as we called him, loved it when we would recite poems to him. In Flander’s Field by John McCrea, was a favorite of his. I memorized it and recited at a school Memorial Day assembly when I was in junior high school.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918) Canadian Army Medical Corp
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915, during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium
On this day, remember those you gave the greatest measure and sacrificed themselves so you can spend the day sunning yourself on the beach, go to the mall and live your life without fear.
Until next time remember – the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.