For at least a week now, it’s been a barrage of commercials and sale flyers for Memorial Day. I don’t have a problem with any merchant or business capitalizing on holidays or anyone getting a good deal on a new car or mattress, but I’m concerned that we lose the real meaning of Memorial Day every May.
Since our first armed conflict of the Revolutionary War with England until the present conflicts we are involved in, we have lost more than 1.3 million of our military service members who died defending this great country. This staggering number is the reason we all need to have a respectful holiday this weekend. I doubt there’s any family who has not lost a close relative or friend while defending this country.
Memorial Day, which is the last Monday of each May and when we honor our fallen military, started as Declaration Day after the Civil War. Several towns and states claim to be the first place to hold such a day. The holiday is celebrated in England and many other countries as “Remembrance Day.”
I read in a recent issue of “History Magazine” that Columbus, Ga., has laid claim to that honor. According to the article, a Mrs. Charles J. Williams of Columbus lost her husband during the Civil War and to honor him, she and her young daughter visited his grave daily with new flowers. The daughter began placing flowers on the graves of other victims of the war and called them her “soldiers’ graves.” After the daughter died, the mother carried on the tradition.
No matter where the holiday actually started, everyone involved had the right idea. And it has continued to be a solemn occasion used to place flags and/or flowers on veterans’ graves.
After World War II, several veterans groups, like the VFW and the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, began passing out small paper poppies as remembrance pieces and as a fundraiser for veterans of the “war to end all wars.” This signified the Flanders Field World War I cemetery, the site of a very bloody battle where red poppies grew wild every spring.
The following is a poem written by Kenny Martin:
I went to see the soldiers, row on row on row,
And wondered about each so still, their badges all on show.
What brought them here, what life before
Was like for each of them?
What made them angry, laugh, or cry,
These soldiers, boys and men.
Some so young, some older still, a bond more close than brothers
These men have earned and shared a love, that’s not like any others
They trained as one, they fought as one
They shared their last together
That bond endures, that love is true
And will be, now and ever.
I could not know, how could I guess, what choices each had made,
Of how they came to soldiering, what part each one had played?
But here they are and here they’ll stay,
Each one silent and in place,
Their headstones line up row on row
They guard this hallowed place.
Clark is commander of American Legion Post 164.