In the early 1970s I had a co-worker whose dad had been captured by the Germans as a prisoner of war during WWII. She said he never, ever talked about it to anyone. The subject was forbidden in their house. But he loved to watch Hogan’s Heroes on TV.
My dad was a WWII veteran also, but fortunately he served in the medical corp and military police and never saw combat duty. But all his life he stayed in touch with his “old army buddy” up til his buddy died. They had a bond that was forged by shared experiences no other person in his life had known.
Those of us who never served and went on with our normal lives during years when our country was engaged in wars, have no possible understanding of the hardships, horrors, atrocities, and sacrifices made by those who enlisted and those who were drafted into service.
Which is why we all need to take a moment to think of someone we know who participated in a branch of our country’s military services. If they are still living, thank them because Memorial Day is celebrated to honor them.
Memorial Day began in 1868 and was called Decoration Day. The purpose was to decorate the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War with flags and flowers as a way to honor them. The date May 30 was chosen because fresh flowers would be in bloom in all parts of the country by then, so there were plenty of flowers to put on graves. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War,
By the end of the 19th Century observances were being held throughout the country. State legislatures passed proclamations designating May 30 as the observance day. Both the Army and the Navy created guidelines for how to observe the day.
After WWI the observances were expanded beyond the Civil War to honor any person who fought in a war for the U.S. including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, the Mexican War and WWI. Fewer men died in all those wars combined than in the Civil War.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Congress passed a resolution calling it Memorial Day and established the date as the last Monday in May. The biggest celebration each year is at Arlington National Cemetery where flags are placed on each of the 400,000 graves of fallen soldiers. The public is invited to place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
And now the observance also honors those who died and fought in the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. So many wars! So many lives lost or changed forever with no goals or clearly defined purposes by the administrations and military leaders in charge during each.
The wars we’ve fought since WWII have not been ones that brought the country together. We didn’t enter them with a plan to win, with the exception of the Gulf War where “General Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf” executed a brilliant strategy and achieved the goals set by President Bush.
From the Revolutionary War through today we’ve lost 1,185,596 soldiers to wars and war-related causes. We can honor the people who served without honoring the acts of war. It’s time we focus our attentions on conflicts within our own country instead of getting involved with conflicts around the world.
A starting point this Memorial Day weekend can be to encourage displays of patriotism. Things you can do to show your patriotism and encourage others to do the same include:
Display the American flag at your home.
Create a flower bed with a mix of red, white, and blue flowers and add a few small flags in your floral display. A stunning display can be created with tall blue delphiniums filled in with white snapdragons, and bordered by red petunias.
Find a community near you that is having a veterans ceremony or parade and attend it.
Take a few moments during your weekend cookouts to have your entire family join in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Take time to explain what the pledge means to the younger kids in the family and instill a sense of pride of country in them.
Get creative with your holiday weekend food. Make a variety of foods that celebrate the years of welcoming people from other cultures who have chosen to make America their home. Use food to reinforce how ancestries from German, Italian, Scots, Chinese, Irish, Korean, African, Indian, Japanese, Caribbean, Mexican, South and Central American, Spanish, Russian, and so many others have made new lives here and each contributes to making this a better country for all of us.
Visit a cemetery and put flowers on the graves of veterans who are buried there.
Have a contest with your family and friends to see who knows all the words to the first verse of the “Star Spangled Banner”. Even do a family sing-along of it. Expand the sing-along to include other patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and “My Country Tis of Thee”.
Continue your patriotism beyond the holiday weekend through other actions such as buying local and American made goods and foods. Refuse to idolize or patronize pop music stars, athletes, Hollywood celebrities, and TV personalities who trash and denigrate our country.
Displays of Patriotism are not old-fashioned, and they are really needed now. Hopefully love of country is something that can unite us instead of dividing us.
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”Mark Twain
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