"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. In this observance, no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit." General John A. Logan, Grand Army of the Republic, May 5, 1868. Gen. Logan also recommended that the graves of the fallen be decorated with the choicest flowers of springtime and that the graves be protected against the ravages of time lest future generations forget the cost of freedom.
Decoration Day, now officially known as Memorial Day, started spontaneously in many places near the end of the Civil War, in both the North and the South, on dates determined by the various localities. After World War I, May 30 became generally accepted throughout the nation. The holiday also started to be known as Memorial Day.
On Loyalty Day and Memorial Day, traditionally, people give or wear poppies. That tradition is ascribed to a couple of poems from World War I. In 1915, inspired by French the poem, "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael wrote:
"We cherish to, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies."
The tradition of giving and wearing red poppies spread from the U.S. to France and other parts of Europe.
Decoration Day, Memorial Day, is a day set aside to remember not those who returned, but to honor those who wait for the eternal reunion with their families in the kingdom from which only our Lord has returned.
In the Civil War, half of all soldiers were either wounded or killed. Many, many more died later from complications from amputation, infection, or addiction to the painkillers cocaine and heroin. In World War I, soldiers were mown down like so much hay before a reaper. An even greater number of soldiers who survived the bullets and gas succumbed to the Spanish flu, trench foot, and other infections. In the Second World War, in a single day, 5,000 to 10,000 could be killed in one battle. The cemeteries and other gristly reminders of these wars dot all of Europe.
In 1971, the federal government reorganized our schedule of national holidays. Holidays were moved from their traditional date to a Monday to provide three-day weekends. Washington's birthday and Lincoln's Birthday were consolidated into President's Day. Memorial Day was moved from May 30 to the nearest Monday along with others. Many of these holidays have faded into days noted primarily for banks and the post office being closed.
Memorial Day still manages to standout. The V.F.W. formerly decorated graves with poppies, now with flags. The 3rd U.S. infantry decorate every soldier's grave in Arlington National Cemetery with a flag and stand guard to make sure that none fall or disappear during the holiday. Many troops of Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts also decorate the graves of the fallen.
The wars of the last two decades have been much more "clean" and "surgical" than in all of past history. It is a blessing that our men and women are not dying by the thousands. The reason for Memorial Day seems to fade just a little further from the collective consciousness.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. It is fitting and proper that it is a day set aside for cookouts and family get-togethers. However, the one-thousandth soldier has recently died in Afghanistan. A couple of the most precious blossoms of youth have fallen in our community in the past year or so. No matter your opinion of these wars, or of war in general, take a moment to remember and pray for those who gave their all for the nation that they believed in, and their families, as they wait for the joyful reunion to come.
May all who gave their life for this nation rest in peace. May their families be comforted in their loss.