According to the Department of Veteran Affairs web site- “Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.”
My earliest memories of Memorial Day were when I was about five years old and living in Roseland- a neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago. It was the time of the Vietnam War. Many of our local young men had been drafted. My brother joined the Navy and was serving on a hospital ship, the USS Sanctuary, off the coast of South Vietnam. Many families, whose son or daughter had been killed in action, had gold stars hanging in their windows. Once I knew what that gold star meant, I prayed we would never have one of them.
I remember older men and ladies standing on street corners offering poppies made by disabled veterans. Everyone wore at least one, most wore two or three as we gathered along Michigan Avenue for the annual Memorial Day parade. There were World War II veterans, men and women who served in the Korean Conflict, and many disabled young men back from Vietnam. There were even a few old soldiers who had proudly served during World War I. Even now, my eyes fill with tears as I remember those heroes and their selfless sacrifices for our country.
Across the country in Pennsylvania my wife’s family used to go to the cemetery and clean the graves and place fresh flowers and American flags on them. In Mobridge, South Dakota, every road in the cemetery was lined with American flags. There were about 300 of them. People gathered for services, bands played, and Taps was sounded. But that was a long time ago.
Recently, the news has been full of reports about the serious shortcomings of the VA system. Heroes coming home from war have been denied their promised benefits. Older veterans are dying from postponed medical care. Many are upset and seek to find those responsible and hold them accountable.
May I dare suggest that we, as a nation, are the ones responsible? We have forgotten the tens of thousands of young men and women who have suffered and many died for our freedom. Memorial Day is no longer about remembering our heroes. It is about the first day of summer. It is about a day off from work and school. Few care and fewer remember. When was the last time you attended the Memorial Day services at the high school? Can you remember the last time you bought a poppy and wore it proudly? Who was the last veteran you personally thanked for his or her service and heroism?
Our country is a reflection of us, its citizens. We need to remember the sacrifices that have made to keep our country and our world free. To those of you who have served at home or abroad we, your family and friends, say a heartfelt, “Thank you.”
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
till all success be nobleness and every gain divine!