The flags will grow in cemeteries on Memorial Day and the poppies, a custom that began during World War I, will be placed on many graves. America is a country of customs, and Americans take the traditions of honoring their veterans with solemnity.
Memorial Day, now a day that draws people together in honoring fathers, mothers, uncle, aunts, cousins and friends who died while in military service, began in a divided country in the immediate years after the Civil War. The South began a Memorial Day, but in a couple of years changed it to Confederate Memorial Day to separate it from the Memorial Day established for Union veterans. In the minds of some, that divide still exists. Confederate Memorial Day events still happen in the some parts of the South.
But the day is, as it should be, one to honor men and women who nobly served and died in that service. It is a day of speeches, of flowers, of flags, of tears, yes, even for those long departed.
It is a good day, and an important day.
We live in an age where most consider only the present and the immediate future. But to understand that future, to truly understand it, we must know what happened to make it possible.
And most certainly, the veterans who died in service, those to be honored on Memorial Day, made it possible. Their deaths meant something, a sacrifice, the ultimate one, to save a country and a world for all generations to come. And they died with worries for their families on their minds, but with no regrets about the cause for which they served. Duty, honor, country — many said the words again and again, in oaths and to themselves.
So this is a most important day, a serious day, a day for explaining to children what it means to preserve a country, how the sacrifices of those who are honored made their lives possible and made them better.
Let the salutes be offered, and let the tears flow. Sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America” and teach the youngsters some history.
This is a day for not working, but it’s not really properly, technically, a “holiday.” Tremendous and serious customs have grown around it, from the flags placed on graves of fallen veterans to the poppies some use to honor them — a custom that began with the inspiration of the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I.
Americans, most of them, do take time on Memorial Day, quiet time, to at least contemplate what the day means. Parades and songs and services aside, the day will always be important as long as those individual memories survive.