Saturday, May 23, 2009

Flanders Fields

The city where I live, population 621, kicks off the Memorial Day weekend with a Children’s Parade, little flags, bunting decorated bicycles, wagons, scooters, skateboards. The parade convenes at the Pine Lake Community Center and winds its way two blocks to the Beach House for hot dogs, hamburgers, and pot luck. Krogers and Publics do booming business for Memorial Day weekend. So does NASCAR and baseball double-headers. Nationwide "Click It or Ticket" campaigns welcome the beginning of vacation driving season. Will there be $4 per gallon gasoline again by the end of summer?

In my childhood, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, no matter what day of the week, but now the last Monday in May is celebrated, in the interest of a long three-day weekend. Originally called Decoration Day, the purpose was to remember those who have died in our nation's service. Before the end of the Civil War, groups of women in the South decorated the graves of their fallen. Union Army General John Logan ordered Memorial Day observance on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, a commemoration continued there today with small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 Arlington burial sites. Several southern states still have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.

Congress diluted the special significance of Memorial Day by lumping it into a three-day weekend. “No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day," according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a decorated World War II veteran, who lost his arm in combat in Italy, has introduced legislation repeatedly since 1987 to return Memorial Day to its traditional day.

Some people confuse Memorial Day, which remembers those who have died in U.S. military service, with Veterans Day, which honors all those who have served the U.S. in the military. The total number who have died in service to their country is much smaller than the total number of those who have served. This is a significant recruitment tool.

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.

--John McCrae (1918)

This much does not change, no matter where the poppies grow these days.

Memorial Day 2009, Monday, there will be ceremonies at the final resting places of those who gave what Lincoln called, the "last full measure." Drop by one near you. They may play "Taps." Take a handkerchief, just in case.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

The increased traffic from three day weekends has resulted in increased traffic deaths. Here is something I found on the internet:
"Nearly 40 Million Drivers Expected to Hit the Road Memorial Day Weekend
Memorial Day is the Third Most Perilous Holiday for Vehicular Traffic. Radarsign Reminds Drivers How-to Keep Roads Safe for Holiday Fun

Alpharetta, GA (PRWEB) May 18, 2009 -- Nearly forty million drivers are expected to fill highways and byways this coming holiday weekend according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Memorial Day weekend is the third most perilous holiday for vehicular traffic. Thanksgiving holds the number one spot, with Independence Day at number two. Labor Day and New Year's Eve round out the top five."

margo said...

While on a Smithsonian Journey of western France, three weeks ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of visiting the World War II memorials at both Normandy and Utah Beaches where so many brave patriots made their ultimate sacrifice to guarantee the life we have today.

As a child of WWII, I know that this was a war that had to be fought. But I question the others since then. How many have been maimed and died for reasons that don't really make sense? Are our country or the world any better off as a result? Will the world's leaders ever learn that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than through war? Probably not in my lifetime, but I still have hope that it will happen some day.

As we remember our service personnel today, let's hope that their future roles will not be to uselessly lay down their lives but to help mankind in times of tragedy and need.


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