Is Memorial Day still a sacred, patriotic holiday?
It was called “Decoration Day”, in my childhood memories, and we pinned a little red poppy on our collar or lapel. They were given out or sold every where, including stores and door to door, so were silky little American flags. Decoration Day was a time for many patriotic and flag ceremonies in cities, schools, cemeteries, and all over town, even some parades. We’d pick flowers from the yard and street side vendors, and then visit the graves. Family members would talk about their memories and loved ones who had passed on. Dad and mom would tell us their sad memories of the war times and people they lost because of it. Even at our young ages, we felt the sadness of people who died young while protecting others. We would put our little U.S. flags on the graves of the soldiers. So many details of my memories back then are so vague, that I felt forced to research the reason for the poppy pins and the decline of patriotic activities for Memorial Day.
Where have all the flowers or poppies gone? And what has causes the decline of special attention to our service men and woman who have and are still, fighting for us and our country.
During the devastating ground wars in Europe during WWI, there was almost no vegetation growing in the churned up mud, but the Earth, in its own personal way of struggling to live through all adversity, bloomed profusely in bright red during the late spring. Despite the ground disturbances, the vivid blood-red corn poppies bloomed in between the trench lines and in the no-man’s lands on the Western Front. In some places, when weather permitted, they even bloomed again in early autumn.
The poppy has four petals of bold red with a black center. Poppies have long been the symbol of sleep and death, and because they are red, often represent blood, or even, the promise of the resurrection after death. They represent sleep and death, because of the deadly opium that is extracted from them. In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as an offering to the dead, and emblems of the poppies were put on the tombstones to represent eternal sleep.
Corn poppies are a common weed in Europe, England and a few other places.
In a poem “In Flanders Fields”, by Canadian poet and soldier Lt. Col. John McCrae, the red poppies were the symbol of the blood of polish soldiers killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
In 1918, when his poem appeared in the Ladies Home Journal it inspired another poet, Morina Michael, who wrote another poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith”, and it ended with a the statement that she would always wear a poppy, as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in war. She then conceived and acted upon the idea of buying silk poppies, and distributing them at her business conference in New York. Two years later Madame E. Guerin of France heard of Ms Michael and was inspired to organize the production of millions of artificial poppies made by French widows in the US. They were sold to help provide money for the widows and children of veterans. A tradition and fund raiser was born. One person’s vision and actions inspired others and brought a chain of good results. The “buddy poppies” as they were called, were around for a long time. I remember them into the sixties. Some people wore white ones, as a pledge to peace. Unfortunately the “buddy poppies” and many other positive patriotic programs have died and were buried! They are not around today.
There are people who blame the changing or lessening of patriotism, to the date of June 28, 1968. That is the day when Congress passed a bill which moved three holidays to Mondays to make them three day weekends. Memorial Day, (formerly known as Decoration Day and changed in 1967) was one of these holidays. In 2002, the Veterans of Foreign Wars made a statement saying that …if the date was changed simply to create a 3 day weekend; it has undermined the meaning of the day and contributed to a nonchalant attitude in the public for the importance and observance of this day.
Many have pointed out that since that time, celebrations have diminished. Flag etiquette at personal homes is ignored. Some have no idea that people should voluntarily observe a moment of remembrance, respect and silence when Taps is played. Some think it is a day was meant for honoring all dead, not that there is anything wrong with that. But, the point is that, many Americans have forgotten the meaning and purpose for which the holiday was established. They may think of it only as a time for parties, vacations and barbecues, not that there is anything wrong with them either, but should we forget the original values?
On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, “Decoration Day” our current Memorial Day was established as an annual holiday. In General John A. Logan’s orders to the people then, which we should honor today, he said, in effect …this is a day to decorate the graves of our fallen soldiers with the choicest flowers of spring. Guard the graves with sacred vigilance. Keep the areas around them reverent for visitors and mourners. Never let them be neglected or ravaged with time. Testify to the present or the coming generations that we, as a group of people, have not forgotten the cost of a free and undivided republic. Let it be a day of observance and testimonials of respect for our country and our soldiers.