It happens every year. Summer’s official start is a couple of weeks away, but Memorial Day weekend is upon us and for many of those not making hay or trying to get a crop in, it is a time for picnics and parties.
I have nothing against picnics and parties, but the reason behind the Monday federal holiday is for mourning U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces.
It is sad to think that there are many people who have little to no comprehension of the significance of Memorial Day.
By proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first Memorial Day observance was held in 1868 to honor those who died in defense of their country during the rebellion. Graves of Civil War soldiers were decorated with flowers by mourners.
Gen. James Garfield spoke to a gathering of 5,000 at Arlington National Cemetery who then decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War casualties buried there.
There are communities across the heartland where parades and ceremonies are held on Memorial Day. Sadly, in many cases, attendance has dropped significantly in recent years.
Do your children and grandchildren know the significance of the small, red-cloth poppy that you purchased at the four-way stop in your small town? Do they know that the Friday before Memorial Day is National Poppy Day?
Do they know the poem “In Flanders Fields” written during World War I by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae? Do they know the story behind it?
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.
The Flanders poppy, a common flower native to Europe has seeds that often lie dormant for years and come to life once soil is disturbed.
That is what happened in European cemeteries where fallen soldiers of World War I were buried. The plant is associated with those who have died in combat.
In my experience, one of the most poignant reminders of the sacrifices made by those who fought to protect the freedoms so many of us in the world enjoy today is at the World War I Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.
Before entering the main gallery at the museum, you cross a glass bridge suspended over a poppy field — 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 men and women who perished during that war.
Before you begin your long weekend of playing or working over the Memorial Day holiday, please remember our fallen war heroes.
More importantly, be sure that those who represent the next generation of Americans have a clear understanding of the true significance of Memorial Day.