Many people think of Memorial Day as a long vacation weekend and the beginning of summer. Memorial Day is so much more. The intent of Memorial Days is to commemorate the men and women who lost their lives serving the county and defending our freedom.
The original unofficial Memorial Day
I recently read a very interesting story about the first memorial day. It is a story not often read – lost in history. On May 1, 1865, a group of African-Americans conducted a ritual of remembrance at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club. The track and facilities had been turned into an outdoor prison during the Civil War. Union soldiers were confined to the prison and were kept in deplorable conditions. 257 Union soldiers died there. The African-Americans were remembering those Union soldiers. (For more background on this story, click HERE.)
The original official Memorial Day
The article cited above goes on to describe the first official national memorial day that was held in 1868. General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Union Veteran’s Organization) called on former northern soldiers to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves to remember their dead comrades. City after city began to participate and the holiday grew from there.
Many of us decorate graves – not only to commemorate lost soldiers – but also to commemorate, honor, and remember family members and friends who are now gone. Perhaps this is out of character with the original intent but certainly it is a natural progression. The important thing is to also remember and honor the original intent along with remembering others.
What can you do on Memorial Day
There are many ways to honor the fallen soldiers and others:
- Decorate graves
- Donate to you favorite charity and consider donating to a veteran’s museum, organization, etc
- Fly your U.S. flag at half-mast to honor fallen soldiers (This is required for all governmental agencies.)
- Attend a Memorial Day parade
- Visit a local memorial
- Attend a local memorial day event
- Plant a memory tree
- Create a memory garden
- Create memory stones to place in your garden
- Create a walking path of memory stones (the walk of life)
I’m sure there are many more ways to commemorate Memorial Day. I hope you make this Memorial Day weekend more than just a long weekend off of work and that you find a way to remember.
Just one more thing
Although not the intent of Memorial Day, think about saying a kind word to someone … perhaps a veteran. It’s not hard to do and it may very well make a difference in that person’s life. Last summer I was at the Veterans Administration facilities in St. Cloud, waiting for my btother who had a doctor appointment. I was sitting in my car, in the parking lot, watching workers cut down a tree. I also watched an older gentlemen, with a glorious silver ponytail, park his vehicle, get out and talk to the workers, and then back up his pickup. The workers then loaded some of the cut wood into the back of pickup. The gentlemen saw me watching, with my car window open, and came over to talk to me. He explained that he couldn’t work anymore so he did woodcraft to earn extra money. He also explained that the tree was a black walnut tree – wonderful wood for carving. We talked for about fifteen minutes – until he realized he was late for his appointment. As he left, he exclaimed. “I am going to tell them I am late because I was talking to the Planning Director from Anoka!” I laughed – because I don’t think that talking to me is that exciting – but it made his day and that is all that counts.
No act of kindness is ever wasted.
Thanks for reading!