Monday, May 30, 2011

Why we are called to Remember

".... From these honored dead,
we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they here gave the last full measure of devotion--
that we here highly resolve these dead
shall not have died in vain...."
-- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War. First known as Decoration Day, it was instituted by former Union Army Major General John A. Logan, to honor those who died in the armed forces. 
General Logan, later a U.S. senator from Illinois, became the first commander-in-chief of the organization of Union veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic.
With General Orders No. 11, Logan designated May 30, 1868, "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country" and to conduct special services as circumstances permitted. 

"Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic," he declared. 

He also asked that the nation renew its pledge to assist the soldiers and sailor's widows and orphans.  The general said he inaugurated the observance "with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades."  The observance has continued, although now Memorial Day is observed as the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor the sacrifices of innumerable individuals who sacrificed their own lives to preserve the freedoms all Americans enjoy, with Memorial Day remembering those who gave their lives, and Veterans Day honoring all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

The traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps." [Direct quote from Memorial Day History]

---------- For a couple of summers growing up I worked alongside my brother, father and uncle tending the grounds of our four township cemeteries. One of our jobs was to place flags on the graves of all veterans on Memorial Day. My father would get us up very early that morning so that we could give the cemeteries a final grooming and make sure all flags were in place. He made sure we understood that what we were doing had significance, that it was a small way we could honor those who served so that we can be free. We worked hard to not forget a single grave. Sometimes we had to use a map to know the proper placement, as the limestone grave markers of Civil War veterans had degraded so badly over time that we could not read the inscriptions. Later in the day, My father would take us back to the large township cemetery that sat on a corner, across from a small rural church and the township hall and hemmed in by farm fields, for the Memorial Service. As a small child, I did not understand the significance of the day, no matter how often my father explained it but I knew that it was special and that we were to be quiet and respectful. Today as an adult, I take my own children to this service, to this cemetery where at least five generations of my family are buried, where small American Flags whip in the breeze in bronze stands in front of the graves of my grandfathers and I explain to my children what this day means. 
I explain why we are called to Remember.

Information for this post was obtained at Military District of Washington and Memorial Day History.


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