Did you know that Memorial Day began as Decoration Day? It was a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers from the Civil War, both Confederate and Union soldiers. In a war-torn nation, it was a day of remembrance and reconciliation as all sides decorated graves of those they lost during the years of the Civil War. There was unity in grief. All Americans felt, and understood, great loss.
Later, Memorial Day was instituted as a day of remembrance for those who died in service to our country in any war.
The loss of life in military service is not unique to the United States. An officer in the Canadian Army wrote a poem in 1915 which speaks to the ache of loss in battle.
In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
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.
Inspired by In Flanders Fields, in 1915 the American poet, Moina Michael, also penned a poem in remembrance of American soldiers.
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
Ms. Michael also started a tradition of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day. She sold red poppies to raise money to benefit servicemen in need. It was a tradition taken up by a visiting Frenchwoman who carried the idea back to France as a fundraiser for war-orphaned children and widows. The idea of selling red poppies returned to the United States in 1922 when the VFW started the “Buddy” Poppy Program to benefit Veterans in the United States.
Maybe this is a little different than the back-yard barbecue or the day off you have planned today. I know it is different than our typical Memorial Day activities.
Here’s another little historical tidbit: In December 2000 the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed asking all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps” at 3 p.m. local time.
In the Old Testament, God frequently calls for a pause to remember the past. Whether the Old Testament saints set up ebeneezers or celebrated the Passover, the point was to remember and to teach their children of the mighty acts of God on their behalf so they would know how to live in the future.
Memorial Day is a little bit like that. I think it is important to pause, to remember, and to teach our children about the past. There are victories to celebrate and tragedies to lament. It is all a part of who we are. When we forget, we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of our fore bearers; we are in danger of acting in ignorance by not following the wisdom of mighty leaders from years gone by.
However you choose to spend Memorial Day, I hope you have some times woven into your family calendar to remember the fallen soldiers who died for our freedom, the ache of loss for those whose bodies have died before us, the gruesome atrocities of man’s acts in history, and the glorious deeds of our Lord, his might, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4).
Have a great Memorial Day!