Published: Friday, May 27th, 2005
It was originally known as Decoration Day and later called Memorial Day. The date for this day of remembrance was set for May 30 until it was changed in 1971 to the last Monday in May to give people a longer holiday. What was known as a solemn observance was changed into a weekend filled with picnics, trips to the lake, and other fun-filled activities. Growing up, I knew very little about Memorial Day except that it was a holiday. Watching television, I saw a wreath laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. I was a little familiar with the memorial and Arlington Cemetery as we visited there when I was a child. Even then, Arlington Cemetery made an impression on me as I looked out over row after row of cemetery markers. Standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was more impressed with the soldier who marched back and forth in full uniform in the unbearable heat. He looked like he wasn’t even sweating. It wasn’t until years later that I could look back on what I witnessed and for the first time was overcome with what I saw all those years before. I heard that the day was so special because it represented a great sacrifice. I started looking up everything I could find on Memorial Day to learn more and understand why it was so special, especially to veterans and older people I knew. Memorial Day began in 1868 to pay respect to all soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who gave their lives in the Civil War. While on opposing sides, these soldiers believed in their cause and sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. Survivors of the war put their feelings aside and started the healing process for the nation. Later, families observed the price paid for their freedom and extended the observance to remember loved ones who had died. They gathered at cemeteries to place flowers on graves and reflect on the lives of those who were gone. It was a family day spent at the cemetery. Sometimes they even brought picnic lunches with them and ate them right there in the cemetery. Memorial Day is a special time to remember those who continue to live on in our hearts after they are gone from this Earth. I learned more about this type of observance after I married. I was a young bride, having only been married two weeks prior when Memorial Day came along. Mark’s grandmother, whom we fondly called Granny, invited me to go along with her and Mark’s mom, Alice, to the cemetery on Memorial Day. I had no idea why, but tagged along because I felt honored to be asked. In the car were roses from Alice’s garden and bundles of silk flowers. Arriving at the cemetery, we drove straight to a grave and got out. It was the grave of Granny’s brother, a veteran of World War I who passed away a couple of months before. Granny placed flowers beside the flag and the two explained to me who he was before going on to the next grave. As we visited each grave, they told me about the family member who was buried there. Through their stories, I felt as though I knew each and every one in a personal way even though they passed away as early as 1915. It was as though I became a part of their lives. In the following years, I continued to accompany them on this quest. After Granny passed away, Alice and I went every year until her death. I continue this honored tradition in their memories. I give thanks for Granny and Alice and how they took me under their wing when I was only a young, naive bride. I am thankful for the stories they related about their loved ones so I now feel close to them, even though we never met. I am thankful that I can continue our tradition and will always remember why Memorial Day is observed. While there is nothing wrong with having a holiday and having fun, it is important to remember what the holiday stands for and why we observe it. It is important to teach children about the holiday and the sacrifice freely given by those in the armed forces who fought in wars both on our soil and abroad. We need to teach them about loved ones who are long gone. We need to teach them so they too can teach their children someday.
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