A Poem for Memorial Day
Open the pool,
Fire up the grill,
Invite the neighbors—
It’s Memorial Day!
Funny we’ve forgotten what it is we’re supposed to remember….
Not so funny to some—
Those who grieve
The souls that left their bodies behind
To rot beneath white stones,
Those who understand the cost of freedom
Because they paid it
With the lives of their sons and daughters,
fathers and mothers,
brothers and sisters.
But where are the others?
Where are the decorations?
Where are those who remember?
A Day to Remember
On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30th to be a day to remember our fallen soldiers of the Civil War. This practice was already being carried out in some parts of NY, but the commander made it official in his General Order No. 11. Originally called “Decoration Day,” it was set aside “for the purpose among other things, of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” He further prescribed that flowers, wreaths, American flags, and other decorations be laid upon the grave of every soldier, sailor, and marine in every cemetery, with local chapters determining the particulars in regard to ceremony. By 1890 this practice was recognized in all of the northern states, but the south refused to take part until after the Great War (WWI), when the holiday was expanded to honor those who died in the course of any war, not just the Civil War.
The Significance of the Poppy
On Memorial Day, you may see folks wearing a poppy on their lapel or shirt, but do you know why? In 1915 Lt. Col. John McCrae, a physician, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” (copied below) depicting the sight he saw as he walked through a field where the graves of men who had died defending their countries were marked by scores of small crosses rising above a sea of poppies. These crimson flowers are known for their resilience. They can lie dormant for years and then suddenly spring into bloom, dressing a once barren land in their bright red. Thus the flower has come to represent the blood of the fallen heroes.
In 1918 Moina Michael wrote her own poem in reply to “In Flanders Fields.” She was the first to wear a poppy, and she sold them to others to be worn on Memorial Day. The funds raised by the sale of the poppies are used by the American Legion to help support the needs of disabled American veterans.
But the significance of the poppy is not confined to our nation’s borders. Madam Guerin from France was visiting the States and learned of Ms. Michael’s poppies. She then returned to France and made artificial poppies, selling them to raise funds for the widows and orphans of those who died in service. This practice has spread to other countries as well.
It Gets Personal
In all honesty, Memorial Day didn’t mean much to me until a friend of mine lost her husband. I had never been to a veteran’s cemetery before his funeral. Following his death, she invited me and several other friends to join her for the Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony—another first for me. I went that year and every year thereafter that I was able until my own life turned a corner. In 2011 my dad passed away and was buried in the Virginia Veteran’s Cemetery in Amelia County. That year we drove to Amelia for the Memorial Day ceremony. Now we live too far away, but there is a veteran’s cemetery near us, and I plan to be there tomorrow morning to honor those who served our country. It will make me feel a little closer to my dad to be in a place similar to the one where his body lies, and it just may uplift the spirit of some widow or widower who also happens to be there.
May I encourage each of you to find a veteran’s cemetery near you and give your Monday morning to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom. I’m fairly certain the pool and the grill will still be there when you get home.
National Moment of Remembrance
If you cannot make it to a veteran’s cemetery, then there is one other thing you can do right where you are. The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To 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.’”
In Flander’s Field
By Lt. Col. John McCrae, 1915
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