Their service came not as a burden but as a duty.
As we pause to remember our fallen comrades this Memorial Day, we need to take time to give thought to their families, their friends and to those who love them. We cannot measure the depth of their loss nor can we comprehend the true measure of their sorrow. They served their nation well, standing between the enemy, and us, between good and evil, between freedom and tyranny. Their service came not as a burden but as a duty.
To properly honor them, we must speak of them in real and human terms. They were more than our friends: They were our buddies, And they were closer than family in many ways because we developed a kinship with them that only those who have experienced the realities of war can understand. We honor their memory, but at the same time we mourn them. We are grateful for the privilege of knowing them and having them included in our lives. What is finest about our nation--individual freedom, justice, equality and opportunity -- has been sustained because of them. And for that every American is in their debt.
John FurgessVFW Commander-in-Chief
In 1918 Moina Michael penned “We Shall Keep the Faith” in response to John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field” (both poems can be found at the end of this post) launching the idea of wearing a poppy on the 30th of May in remembrance of our fallen warriors. While Memorial Day has existed as a federal holiday since only 1966, the practice of honoring America’s war dead dates to at least
the Civil War:Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee
Unfortunately Memorial Day has sadly become just another three day weekend for many Americans- and with our men and women in uniform taking casualties in the field over this long weekend it seems inappropriate to spend the day honoring their fallen comrades eating BBQ and drinking beer. I can remember, as a child, watching the parade and seeing the veterans, and the whole town gathering in Memorial Park for a speech or two and then the reading of the names of any veterans in the community who had passed away over the course of the prior year- their service honored too on that special day. I don’t know if my small hometown still does that, but I do know that shopping sales and the “official” start of the summer beach season are marked by this “holiday” more than anything else. To me, and I am sure to the families of those who have died in battle, this is not a holiday, and was never meant to be one. It is a solemn occasion for remembrance and reflection- our treatment of the day as an excuse to cut loose is not in keeping with the sacrifices made by the men and women the day is dedicated to.
Living and working in Europe, seeing the battle fields where both World Wars raged, and visiting the countries that suffered so much throughout the wars and for decades afterwards makes quite an impact. The rows of white crosses and headstones, reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery, are powerful artifacts, especially when one pauses to consider that many of these great fields of honor mark but a single battle or engagement. I am saddened by the thought that we are losing touch with the memory of the men and women who have gone forth from the safety of their homes to try to bring freedom freedom, and safety, to others, and to keep the forces of evil from our shores. Our “holiday” needs to be restored to a National Day of Remembrance, now more so than ever. The Memorial Day History group and the VFW agree:
But what may be needed to return the solemn, and even sacred, spirit back to Memorial Day is for a return to its traditional day of observance. Many feel that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend in with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it all the easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. As the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th instead of "the last Monday in May". On April 19, 1999 Representative Gibbons introduced the bill to the House (H.R. 1474). The bills were referred the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Government Reform.
While I am just as fond of a three day weekend as the next person, I support the idea of moving Memorial Day back to the 30th of May. Sign the petition if it moves you, or click here to find out more about what you can do to make a difference this holiday weekend. If your town has a war memorial, and I am fairly certain all American towns do, please pay it a visit on Monday. Take your kids if you have any, or any kids you can round up from your family, and tell them what the memorial represents. Go ahead and have your BBQ, but please share a moment of silence with your friends and pay homage to those who have died so that others may live. If you have a flag in front of your home, fly it at half-mast until noon.
This day, above all others, is a day for reflection and honor. Let us never forget our fallen sons and daughters-let us never break the faith.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 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, November 1918
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 Fields.
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 ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.