Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why I Observe Memorial Day

This weekend, we will observe Memorial Day. The holiday began three years after the Civil War in 1868 as Decoration Day, a time set aside to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. The date of May 30 probably was selected because flowers would be in bloom across the country in the late spring.

The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies began on the veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, attended. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the Grand Army of the Republic strewed flowers on both Union and Confederate graves as they recited prayers and sang hymns.

By the turn of the twentieth century, ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the country. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. The date was also changed to the last Monday in May.

So, what does this mean for us?

Some communities hold parades. Local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts place flags on the graves of veterans in cemeteries. Many cities and communities sponsor concerts and fireworks displays. And some families visit the graves of their relatives and friends.

For me, personally, this is a time to remember our fathers, both of whom served in WWII. Fortunately, neither of them was killed, but they gave years of their lives to the service of their country.

One family member, my grandfather’s older brother, Charles Methven, died on October 20, 1917 in Ieper, Belgium during WWI. The family then lived in Canada, and Charles served for Great Britain. He was buried in West Flanders, Belgium near where he fell. He was twenty-three years old.
When I hear Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem and see the poppies on Memorial Day, I think of Uncle Charles. The poem was written in the same place where Charles died.

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.

This year, I will once again remember those, including Charles, who went to war when their country called and who never came home.

This holiday will continue to focus our attention on those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted. They deserve our eternal gratitude and respect.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. The poem took on special meaning for me when I found out where Uncle Charles died. He is one of those in Flanders fields beneath the poppies.