Memorial Day – Decoration Day: Please Do Not Forget Why.
Memorial Day is this coming weekend here in the United States. It is one of our treasured ‘long weekends’ and is a big weekend for many. Family gatherings, barbecues, and a lovely Monday free from our regular routines!
With the holiday here, it got me thinking about it more than usual. So it was that I found myself asking around the other day about the meaning Memorial Day. The almost universal response was ‘oh yes, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer’.
I was saddened by the lack of a single response that had to do with the real purpose, meaning, and reason for Memorial Day.
Granted my sample was not scientific, but it made me sad all the same.
Those of you who follow me, know I am a bit of a GOG, or Grizzled Old Genealogist. That is to say I am old enough that I recall when ‘Memorial Day’ was ‘Decoration Day’. Where I grew up in Ohio it was very important. It was a day for honor, recollecting our veterans, community, and family. A day that revolved around those in our family who were Veterans and especially those who gave the full measure in their service.
Our community always had a big parade. If I recall correctly, it was only exceeded in size by the 4th of July parade. In the lead were all the Veterans who wanted to march. Those who couldn’t make the long march were chauffeured in local folks’ best convertibles. The guests of honor were followed by Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Bands, Clubs, and community and neighborhood groups of all kinds – each and every one showing their support for those who served our great country.
I recall that the parade route always passed by the town square (actually a triangle in my town) that held our memorials to all those who lost their lives in the Civil War and the two World Wars. I passed those monuments daily in my life, but on this day they took on a presence that seemed to make them twice as large and far more noticeable, at least to me. I imagine that many others had this same feeling.
The parade always ended in the park at the amphitheater in one of our parks. Speeches followed and wreaths were presented. Then the time came that everyone was waiting for.
There were always two buglers. One was right in front of everyone. The second was farther away, often across the adjacent lake and hidden from view. The buglers played TAPS, echoing each other and I can still feel the shivers that this induced. The shivers happened every year; year in, year out. As a matter of fact, I cannot hear TAPS today and not think back to those Decoration/Memorial Days.
A lot of years have passed since those days of my youth, and I have only come to feel more and more strongly about Memorial Day since then.
These stronger feelings have been enhanced by my work as a historical genealogist. Then when you add to this the new facts about our family and its members military service and it makes the holiday far more poignant. Back in my youth, I knew my dad (U.S. Army) and my uncle (U.S. Navy) were in World War II, but that was about it. Also, while I knew we visited graves of other family, as a youngster it was a bit removed.
Now after years of research I know that our family was filled with Veterans …. as your families may also be.
I discovered that I had a great Uncle, William Morrish Phillipps, who died in Flanders Fields in World War I and rests eternally in a small churchyard in Houyet, Belgium. I also know our family had Veterans who served in the Indian Wars, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and II, Korea, Vietnam and family members who gave their lives in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Now when I hear the words “Memorial Day” not only do I think of my boyhood days and echoing TAPS, but I give thanks for the very special family members who gave the full measure, such as Sidney James Abbott, John Trefusis Carpenter-Garnier, Everett Emory Dillon, William Henry Evenden, Herbert Winsloe Patton, William Morrish Phillipps, William Gerhard Recker, Jack Rickard, Samuel Rowe, Norman James Sloan, Edward A. Thomas, Paul Dean Urquhart, Anthony Frederick Wedge, and Robert E. Williams.
So, please, as you kick off your summer , as you prepare the barbecue, and gather for the long weekend, I ask that you join in at 3 pm your local time and observe the one minute of National silence in honor and memory of all our departed who paid the ultimate price so we can all be here …. free!
You will find my wife and I out at the cemetery paying our respects to all our veterans.
Have a blessed and lovely Memorial Day!
Onward To Our Past,