Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering The Fallen

Today is Memorial Day and it is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our Nation's service.  It was originally called Decoration Day, because of decorating the graves as a way to honor the war dead.  The origins of the day are not readily agreed upon, but it is known that groups of Southern women as far back as during the Civil War, were decorating the graves of the Confederate soldiers. Regardless of where the day got its start, the day is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Lovely patriotic basket of red poppies.  Image source.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies

In 1915, Moina Michael penned the poem above then she conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. 

Madam Guerin, visiting the United States from France, learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and upon returning to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. 

This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. 

In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
Postage stamp honoring Moina Michael

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. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

3rd US Infantryman placing flags in Arlington Cemetery.   Image Source

There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. 

BSA decorating graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. 

Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminaria

More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.

Civil War veteran's resting place near our home in Virginia.  Photo taken by me.
How is it that over the years the true meaning and spirit of Memorial Day have faded away? It should be considered a national day of mourning.  We need to remember with sincere respect, those who paid the price for our freedoms; we need to keep in sacred remembrance those who died serving their country. We need to never let them be forgotten.

We need to stop and pay, with sincere conviction, our respects for those who died protecting and preserving the freedoms we enjoy, for we owe those honored dead more than we can ever repay.

Today, I remember.


  1. This is such a touching, beautiful post, dear Denise. We don't observe Memorial Day here in Canada, but we do have Remembrance Day on November 11th, which is akin to this important event and honours the memory of all those who have fought to defend Canada and our allies through the wars of the twentieth century.

    Have a lovely holiday Monday,
    ♥ Jessica

  2. I have dreams of visiting the Normandy cemetery where my very distant relatives have buried some of our soldiers.

  3. Beautiful post! A very reflective and great way to remember this day.


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