Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the official kickoff of summer. It’s a three-day weekend where most people spend a little extra time with friends and family, do some cooking on the grill, and maybe jump in the pool for the first time.
That’s all good fun, but we should not lose sight of why there is a Memorial Day.
I grew up in the small central Pennsylvania town of Boalsburg, one of many towns in the United States that claims to be the birthplace of the holiday. As stated on www.memorialdayinboalsburg.org, "While 24 other towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including one in New York that has been officially designated as such, only Boalsburg, in Harris Township, Pennsylvania, can provide a compelling narrative that approaches definitive proof that the practice started here."
As the story goes, in October 1864, two young women, Emma Hunter and Sophie Keller, visited the grave of Emma’s father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, who had been a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil War and decorated it with flowers. In the graveyard of fallen soldiers they met a woman, Elizabeth Myers, who was placing flowers on the grave of her son, who had died at Gettysburg. The three got to talking, sharing memories of their lost loved ones. That day is marked in Boalsburg’s history books as the first Memorial Day Service. The women agreed to meet again the following year to decorate not only the graves of the men they loved, but all the soldiers’ final resting places.
The shared the plan with their friends, family and neighbors, and others agreed and also wanted to take part. They decided to hold a service on July 4, 1865, and the turnout was community-wide. Every grave in the tiny cemetery was decorated with flowers and flags.
According to the USGenWeb site, the scene was so inspiring that it moved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write "Decoration Day," a poem that includes this verse:
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers:
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
Decoration Day was what the remembrance was called, initially. It was repeated yearly, and was shifted to the spring.
In 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, then commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order, naming May 30, 1868, "a day ‘for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country ... with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year.’"
The commemoration became known as Memorial Day after World War II, and prior to that had been expanded to include all those men and women who died in any war or military action. It was formerly held every May 30, but since 1971 has been observed on the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend.
Just as the date was a special time to remember the fallen back in the 19th century, it remains as such today.
So, when you plan how you’re going to spend the upcoming three-day weekend (if you’re fortunate enough to get one), consider how you might honor the true meaning of Memorial Day.
How do you honor the memories of fallen family members who lost their lives in service to our country?
Do you have stories to share about them?
What lessons have you learned from them?
Those of you who have served our country, tell us, what does Memorial Day mean to you?
Tell us about your experiences with the aftermath of war or what you think can be done to better help those who may struggle to overcome the nightmares of the battlefield.
Tell us what you think about the services our government provides for veterans.
Just ahead of the holiday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is facing criticism over disclosures of mismanagement in the VA health system. What should be done?
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