As a child growing up in a small suburban town just outside New York City I always looked forward to âMemorial Dayâ. Besides the obvious thrill of being off from school, I always looked forward to our âMemorial Dayâ parade. It stretched half way through the city and included fire trucks, police cars, High School bands, the local chapter of the VFW, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and several sharply dressed military drill teams. Most of the 75,000 that lived in Mt. Vernon would line the streets to watch the parade go by. They would smile and holler as the fire engines sounded their air horns and sirens but would always go silent with respect as the local VFW chapter would march past. I remember how proud they always were, with their medals on their chests and their unit emblems on their hats. And how they would always break out in sad, uncomfortable smiles as applause erupted from the crowd.
The parade would always end up in our local park where dignitaries would make speeches while the veterans sat quietly and listened. Soldiers representing the joint services would then place a wreath at the base of our war memorial followed by a 21 gun salute and a lone trumpeter playing taps. Then the crowd would slowly disperse, most heading home to be with family and friends.
Today most of us know the significance of this holiday but are either too busy with the family or too preoccupied to take the time to remember those this day was meant to acknowledge. Parades are fast becoming as scarce as a $2.00 a gallon gas price and heartwarming speeches have turned into 30 second sound bites for the news. Hereâs a little history to help refresh your memory.
Decoration Day was officially decreed a holiday on May 5th 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30th 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate the graves “with the choicest flowers of springtime” and “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war. It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May due to the National Holiday Act of 1971 passed by Congress to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays. The name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882 but was not declared the official name until 1967.
“I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic, and I will bare true faith and allegiance to the same. I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over me according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice…So Help Me God.”
The above is the military oath that each enlistee, regardless of branch of service, is required by law to take. This oath, in one form or another, has been around since 1775 and was first administered on June 14th to those men who wished to join the Continental Army. Itâs simple and to the point and speaks volumes of what our military is all about. Though each branch of our armed forces has its own slogan regarding service and duty the oldest and best know is The Marine corpâs âSemper Fidelisâ; Always Faithful.
Over the years âMemorial Dayâ and speeches seem to go hand and hand. And there have been a lot of excellent speeches. However, in my opinion the best of the best is listed below.
âWe have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before usâthat from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotionâthat we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vainâthat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedomâand that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.â
The above is an excerpt from President Abraham Lincolnâs Gettysburg Address. Like I said itâs clearly the best of the best.
To date 2,757,196 American service men and woman have given their lives defending the freedoms we enjoy today. Sadly that number goes up almost daily. They didnât place themselves in âharms wayâ for medals or for glory; they did it for honor and for duty, values that seem to have slowly vanished in todayâs society.
In December of 2000 a resolution called âThe National Moment of Remembranceâ was passed. It asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans ” 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.” This was designed to reacquaint Americans in the true meaning of âMemorial Dayâ. Itâs a sad testament to our times that resolutions need to be passed to remind us to do this. You would think the daily news stories regarding our troops fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan would be enough. Or maybe we just need less half hearted speeches by our political leaders and more good old fashion âMemorial Dayâ parades.
Below is a poem written in 1981 by LTCD. Kelly Strong USCG(Ret.) He was in high school when he wrote the poem.
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze;
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud;
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He’d stand out in any crowd.
I thought… how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down
How many died at sea
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves
No, Freedom is not Free.
I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still;
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill;
I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant “Amen”
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend;
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands.
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No. Freedom is not Free!
âFreedom is not Freeâ – Â©Copyright 1981 by Kelly Strong âŠ firstname.lastname@example.org. Used with Permission
Article – Â© 2010 by Ira Schwartz. All rights reserved. Used with Permission