As we gear up to head out of town or go shopping for those barbecue specialties that you are so “remembered” for, it seems a perfect time to consider what exactly we are remembering this Holiday Weekend.
Regardless of the location of origins or the exact date, one thing is crystal clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War (which ended in 1865) and a desire to honor our dead. On the 5th of May in 1868, General John Logan who was the national commander of the Grand Army of the republic, officially proclaimed it.
Part of the history of Memorial Day will show that in Logan’s proclamation (He issued the proclamation in a General Order), the General announced, “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Because the day wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle, the General called it, The date of Decoration Day.
On the first Decoration Day, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington Cemetery while General James Garfield made a historic speech.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. It was recognized by all northern states by 1890. Differently, the South refused to acknowledge the day and honored their dead-on separate days. This went on 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.
With the Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363), it is now observed on the last Monday in May by almost every state.
This helped ensure a three-day weekend (Memorial Day Weekend) for Federal holidays.
I did not know the significance of red poppies and how they came to be linked to the Memorial Day we now know. Although I am old, I am not old enough to recall how important red poppies became to service organizations and veterans around WW1.
This may be the only Newsletter Soapbox where you will have to endure a poem, but there we are-a new experience!
Part of the story derives from a poem written back in 1915:
In Flander’s Field
By Lt. Col. John McCrae, 1915a
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Also in 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
“We Shall Keep the Faith”
By Moina Michael
Oh! You who sleep in Flanders fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died
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,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders field
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought
In Flanders field
She then 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.
So, I will wear a red poppy on Friday, May 28, 2021 to quietly say “thank you” to ALL of the service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our Country, defending our Freedom, and setting an example of “unity of purpose” for us. Do you think we will ever, as a Country, come together for ANY unity of purpose again? The idealist in me says “I’d like to think so”, but the pragmatist in me says “no way”.
To all of you that have had Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents, Sons and Daughters serve and lose their lives, I wear this red poppy in honor of your sacrifice.
For more information, to get involved or donate to the cause, visit https://www.legion.org/poppyday
That’s all folks!