I’d like to share with you the official description of Memorial Day and how it came to be.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It 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. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
And now, we’ll jump ahead to more modern times. I’d like to share another version of the meaning of Memorial Day.
Across this nation, families and friends are gathering together for picnics. Backyards are turned into a place of laughter and fellowship.
People are firing up their grills, making salads, cookies, pies; setting out tables and chairs in the back yard, placing a radio in the kitchen window and welcoming loved ones; those that have come to share the day.
Knocks on the door can be heard from those who arrive and are greeted with a friendly “come on in! It’s open”.
The kids are playing in the sprinkler, the dogs are barking and trying to sneak food from unattended plates. Friends and family sit in lawn chairs, relaxing, enjoying a long awaited 3-day weekend.
The knocks on the door continue as more friends and family arrive.
An older woman sits in her lawn chair, taking it all in. She listens to the children’s laughter and smiles at the dog’s antics as she takes a sip of her iced tea. Another knock sounds on the door and it takes this woman’s thoughts back in time.
It’s the early morning hours and the alarm has yet to ring. She is startled awake by a knock on the door. Her first thoughts, in that groggy, still half asleep state, are “Who could be at my door at this hour?” She struggles to get her bearings as she grabs her robe and heads towards the front door.
Two silhouettes are on the other side of her front door. She is immediately wide awake. Her steps falter…and then stop. Her brain refuses to acknowledge who may be at her door. The knock sounds again. She takes a step forward as her mind is telling her “No…..no, no”.
She opens the door to two men in uniform. She simply stares. She can form no coherent thoughts or words. She simply stands and stares, clinging to the door handle and her heart races. One of the men in uniform states his name and clearly says “we regret to inform you……” This is all she hears. “We regret to inform you…..” She holds on to the door handle, unable to move while her mind continues to run on repeat… “no, no, no…..”
The following days pass in a blur. People, flowers, more people in uniform. She sees it all as if from a distance. She’s not sure if she has slept, each day simply runs into the next. Family and friends visit, bring food, share stories. She continues to blindly travel along this path she is not prepared for. She sees it all as if in a haze.
As always happens, time passes by; days, weeks, months and she finds herself settling into the way her life is now. A widow, working and raising her children on her own.
Each year, she and her children attend the local Memorial Day Parade and through the years, she has done her best to teach her children the true meaning of Memorial Day. The reason it is a SOMBER day, the reason we take time out to remember and honor those who have given so much for our country and our freedoms. She makes sure that her children know what their Daddy gave and that it cannot be forgotten.
The years come and go. The children grow and move out on their own. Her daughter enters the military, wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps and although proud of her daughter, this women prays she never hears the “Knock on the door” for her child.
A dog barks, children laugh, and she is once again sitting in the back yard surrounded by family and friends, watching her grandchildren run and play; and she smiles. Everyone is called to the tables to get ready to eat. People and animals all moving in different directions, everyone trying to fill their plates and find a seat.
The woman stands and asks for everyone’s attention. “If I can have just a minute of your time” and she proceeds to share her story of The Knock On The Door. A story she shares each year with her family and friends, lest they forget. It is her way of providing the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Now let me explain; this is a story I have built from my own imagination, but I know that this scenario has played over and over within families throughout the decades across this nation. Let that sink in for a minute. The brevity of it all and KNOW that this story can resonate with thousands of families.
Today, in the year 2018, there are many who may not think of anything but barbeques, parties and department store sales. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, nothing at all. I’ve looked forward to all of those things myself. But there is always another thing I do on Memorial Day. That is to remember and give honor to those who have gone before me. To those that have given everything. Literally everything, for their country.
There really are no adequate words to share that don’t sound overused or trite, when trying to explain Memorial Day.
To me, it is a feeling, deep in my heart. Of gratitude for those who selflessly served their country and gave all. It is a day to take time and remember. From decades gone by to the present day. To remember that our country, with all of its faults, is still a great country because men and women chose to serve her, this land we call America. They served and gave their lives.
Not all people are cut out to serve in the military. Nothing wrong with that. Those who do and have served our country, they are set a bit apart. Not better or worse than anyone else, just set a bit apart. You become a different person when you are part of something that is so much bigger than yourself. You become a part of a brotherhood and sisterhood that stays with you for a lifetime.
And you remember and pay honor to those who gave their lives. Many veterans I know, typically do this on a daily basis, but on Memorial Day, it is nationwide, for one day. To take time out, remember, be thankful and give honor.
May God Bless America and all who have served her honorably and given so much over the years.
Kim Lengling is an author and co-chair of Project Support Our Troops and co-founder of Embracing Our Veterans. She can be reached at [email protected] or embracingourveterans.org