Memorial Day

28 05 2010

It just takes one. One friend or brother, one parent or child. Lose one person you love to war, and you know what Memorial Day is all about.

Memorial Day started perhaps during the Civil War, when women decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  After all, it used to be called Decoration Day. But, no one really knows who started it, or where, and it’s probable that it was borne from the zeitgeist of the time.

A few years after the Civil War ended, in May of 1868, Decoration Day was established by a group of Union veterans as a day for the graves of the fallen to be decorated with flowers. The 30th of May was chosen as a day when flowers around the country would most likely be in bloom.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and moved it to the last Monday in May.

Have you seen the red poppies worn by some on Memorial Day? That tradition started with Moina Michael and her poem “We Shall Keep Faith” (which was itself inspired by “In Flander’s Fields,” a poem by John McCrae):

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 2000, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance, when at 3pm local time, on Memorial Day, Americans across the country stop for one moment to honor and remember those who’ve died for this country.

And so we come to the end of this brief history of Memorial Day. I want to buy a red poppy and pause for a moment, at 3pm on Monday, to think of those gone too soon.