Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

"Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead....It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all." (courtesy

As a child, I remember going to the cemetery with my grandmother, the daughter of a Confederate war veteran, on Decoration Day and taking bunches of peonies to decorate the graves. It is a tradition that we should continue to follow, to memorialize those gave their lives for our country.

Freedom is not Free

I watched the flag pass by one day, It fluttered in the breeze.

A young Service man 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 isn't 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 isn't free.

LCDR Kelly Strong, USCG - Copyright 1981

To many today, Memorial Day is primarily a holiday that gives us a three-day break from work and signals the unofficial beginning of summer. But let us all think about the meaning of the words in the above poem, and remember the reason why the holiday exists.

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