Memorial weekend has always been a time to reflect on those who have gone on to a better place. “Decoration Day” originated following the Civil War to honor those who died while fighting in the war. General John A. Logan, representing northern Civil War Veterans, called for the nation to decorate the graves of those who died during the war and whose bodies were buried throughout the land. He chose the date of May 30 because it did not coincide with any major battle.
The first Decoration Day was celebrated at Arlington where 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were buried. After General James Garfield’s speech, volunteers decorated the graves of the war dead.
The holiday became known as Memorial Day and during World War I, it became a day to remember all who died in battle. In 1971, the date was changed to the last Monday in May to comply with the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Since 2005, I’ve always driven to Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Higginsville for the Memorial Day ceremony and to place flowers in front of Jim’s niche. This year, thinking ahead, I purchased flowers on Friday. Saturday morning, my son asked me if I wanted to go to Higginsville with him and his family. After giving it a few moments thought, I quickly made the decision that a day with family would be a better way to spend the day. Sort of an answer to the question: what would Jim do?
After our visit to the Missouri Veteran’s Cemetery, we decided to get a few stamps on my grandkid’s “Passport” to Missouri’s numerous state parks and historical sites. They already had one “stamp” and decided to pick up a couple more. The Veterans Cemetery is next to the Confederate Cemetery and only a short distance from the Battle of Lexington State Historic site. We spent a day learning more about the war that began the entire tradition of the holiday.
The weekend of remembrance continued on with church services this morning. We were encouraged to write the names of loved ones who had passed away on a piece of yellow paper and place them on a wreath at the front of the sanctuary.
As I was sitting, head bowed, during a moment of prayer, an image of Jim popped into my mind. He had a big smile on his face and stood at a split-rail fence, with one foot propped up on a rail. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a memory or a visual reassurance of the here and now. A thought crossed my mind that because dementia snatched him away, I’ll never know what he would have looked like as an old man.
Jim was a veteran, and although he didn’t lose his life in Vietnam, he certainly lost some of his spirit. I’ll never forget how devastated he was the first time we visited the Wall in Washington, D.C. Every day is Memorial Day at the Wall.
Judging from the traffic this weekend, I’d say most people are more interested in the three-day holiday than anything to do with Memorial Day itself. Picnics and celebrations abound during this holiday weekend. Isn’t it a little strange to say “Happy Memorial Day” or “have fun this weekend”? Maybe, maybe not. After all, our love of life and country are made possible because of the men and women who offered up, or made, the ultimate sacrifice. We need to appreciate the legacy they left us, and in turn, pay it forward to the next generation.
Copyright © May 2016 by L.S. Fisher