Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. With the current war on terror, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice.
My memories of Memorial Day growing up are quite vivid. For a small child, it wasn’t fun for the most part, although we did cook out at the end of the day. The day was spent with my parents, my Grandma Holden, and my great-aunt. They would pick peonies from the yard and make bouquets. Then we would spend much of the day driving to cemeteries and placing these bouquets on the graves.
It seems like there were at least four cemeteries that we went to, and they were miles apart from each other. For a child, it was being cooped up in a car on a nice day in May. For the adults, it was a day of remembering and sharing family history. It was a day of honoring those who had died as soldiers. It was as the name of the day implies a day of remembering.
If you count all of the wars the United States has been involved in, we have lost 666,441+ soldiers in combat and another 673,929+ soldiers who died from accidents, privation, disease or as prisoners of war. As a child, I was witnessing adults who had lived through WWI, WWII, or both. I think I understand why they took the meaning of remembering so seriously. Those two wars represent 52% of all US combat deaths.
I wish that I could say I could find all of those cemeteries and graves, but the truth is I only remember the location of one of the cemeteries. Some family history has been lost, but an impression was made on me. As enjoyable as it was to cook on the grill at the end of that day, Memorial Day was important to them for remembering.