Memorial Day traditions
Monday, May 28, is Memorial Day, the official start of summer for many. Usually the weather is warm and recreational opportunities abound, Highways will be crowded with travelers heading to vacation spots for a long three-day weekend.
Unfortunately many will forget the real meaning of the holiday. It was started as a time to honor those who had died in the Civil War. At that time the country was so divided that the former Confederate states observed a different holiday than the rest of the United States. It wasn’t until after the end of World War II that everyone began observing the same date.
Officially, Gen. John Logan is credited with inaugurating the holiday to honor Union soldiers who were killed in the war. Originally, the holiday was called “Decoration Day” as it was set aside to place flowers on graves in memory of those who had died. It was observed on the fourth Thursday in May and later changed to the fourth Monday.
In the “old days” Decoration Day was a major celebration in most towns. Looking over the old copies of The Chieftain, the celebration was a very patriotic event. Normally, it featured a band concert and an area politician or well-known minister delivered a stirring patriotic oration. The ceremony often featured the laying of a wreath and playing “Taps.” Just going from newspaper results, the service usually lasted a couple of hours and was over in time for an afternoon of fun often including a community picnic and one of the local teams competing in a baseball game.
I remember that when I was a Boy Scout, we would place flags on the graves of veterans. Doing that sparked an interest in history, which has been a big part of my life. I began to realize that many sacrificed to earn and preserve our freedoms. It certainly sparked patriotism in me and other Scouts who helped.
The local baseball teams usually opened on Memorial Day and that was a big event. For those who are my age, if you wanted to see baseball you had to watch the local teams. This was an era before TV and, yes, well before Major League Baseball came to KC. You followed baseball by reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. Memorial Day games drew large crowds.
One fact stands out each year and that is how beautiful the cemeteries are with lush, green grass and a panorama of colorful flowers. I always remember that the flower of choice for many was the peony, which normally burst into bloom in late May. I don’t know why but it was years before I knew the real name of the flower.
I guess that many have forgotten the real meaning of the holiday. It is a time that many decorate the graves of loved ones, but unfortunately it is merely a day off work and a time to party and soak up some sunshine. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think it should also be a time to remember those who sacrificed for us and guided us from youth to adulthood.
It occurred to me that the best way to honor those who have gone before us is to do something to help others. It seems to me an excellent way to honor those who are no longer with us.