Monday, May 30, 2011

Memories of Memorial Day

In 2002, we were on our way from upstate New York in the United States to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We stopped off in Iowa City, where one of my aunts then lived.  It was the Memorial Day weekend.

Just after we crossed into the city limits, we passed a cemetery.  It was a blizzard of American flags.  I could not believe how many flags there were.  It showed that the residents of Iowa City had not completely forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day, a special day for residents of the United States.

Last year I blogged about a GI love story for Memorial Day.  This year, at the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I'd like to talk some more about the origin of this holiday.  It's strange in a way, when I write about the Civil War, because I had no ancestors in this country during the Civil War.  So I don't have any direct family links to this war.  Rather, my links come from being born and growing up in this country.  And, knowing that I had family members in several wars.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day.  It was first observed in 1868 with laying of flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate troops at Arlington National Cemetery.  (as an aside, you may be interested in the origin of Arlington National Cemetery,  whose origin is also directly related to the Civil War.)

My home state, New York, was the first to adopt Decoration Day as a holiday.

After World War I, it became a holiday (Memorial Day) to honor the dead of all wars.

I can remember, growing up, when Memorial Day was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week it was.  In 1971, I believe, it was changed to the current "last Monday in May" so that it could become part of several three day weekends being created.  Many people think that celebrating Memorial Day more as a "first day of summer" blowout beach/BBQ/shopping day has been recent, but apparently even in the early 20th century the day was already starting to drift away from its original meeting.

Another ceremony connected with this holiday is the playing of Taps.  Taps originated during the Civil War, composed by a member of the Army of the Potomac to serve as a "lights out" signal. Research I've done indicates that it didn't take long for Taps to be adopted by both Federal and Confederate armies.  It is so well suited to military burials that, again, its true origin is somewhat buried.

I am proud to say that my father was a disabled veteran of World War II.  Today, let us take a moment to honor the veterans of all wars, living and dead.  They are our living reminders that the price of freedom is sometimes a very steep one for those who pay it on our behalf.

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