This weekend marks Memorial Day in the United States. May we never forget the real reason for this national holiday.
Originally called Decoration Day, May 30 was set aside to remember those who died in the Civil War.
Each community in each state, especially the northern states, celebrated in their own way. Many southern states chose different dates to celebrate because they felt this was mainly a day to honor the dead among Union troops.
However, after World War 1, the number of Americans killed united the northern and southern states and all celebrated Decoration Day which now became known as Memorial Day—a day to remember and honor every person who died in battle. In 1968, Congress voted to officially mark the fourth Monday of May as Memorial Day and it was first officially observed in 1971.
Growing up, I remember the parades, the ceremony at the cemetery with flags placed at each veteran grave, and local businesses closed for the day. The local VFW passed out poppies to each person along the parade route. I remembered family members who served and died that our country might have the freedoms we enjoy. I heard my grandparents tell once again the reason they emigrated to this country and fought for their freedoms.
But why poppies?
After World War I, Lt. Col. John McCrae, a physician, walked among the crosses laid out to mark the graves of those who died for their countries. Poppies grew among those graves, covering the fields that were previously barren. In 1918, after the release of his poem, In Flander’s Field, and largely through the work on Moina Michael and her poem, We Shall Keep the Faith, poppies became synonymous with remembering fallen soldiers.
In Flander’s Field
By Lt. Col. John McCrae, 1915
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
“We Shall Keep the Faith”
By Moina Michael
Oh! You who sleep in Flanders fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died
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,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders field
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that you wrought
In Flanders field
This Memorial Day, whether you and your family participate in a local parade, help the VFW pass out poppies, visit a Veteran’s cemetery, or simply stay at home to celebrate with family, spend part of your celebration remembering why we observe this day.
One of our favorite ways to celebrate is to watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS. Click here for the link to the stations in your area.
Fly your American flag proudly.
Teach your children the history of Memorial Day.
Participate in local Memorial Day remembrances.
Thank a veteran and active service member each time you see one.
Our freedom in the United States is not free. It has been paid for and continues to be paid for by the blood of our soldiers.
May we never forget. And may we honor their memory and care for their families well.
How do you celebrate Memorial Day with your family? Leave a comment below.
If you need help, please reach out. I promise to listen without judgment and help you take the next step.