All thoughtful Americans could have something in common tomorrow at 3 p.m. It's not eating hot dogs and hamburgers at the kick off to the summer family picnic, but it could happen at the gathering. What citizens could all have in common is taking a few minutes during the "National Moment of Remembrance" to pause and think about those who have died in service to the United States. Begun several years ago, the purpose of this moment is to encourage Americans to remember the meaning of Memorial Day, our national holiday reserved to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us. Those of us who know simply need to take the time to reflect about it from our own experiences. Those who have influence on younger people can take the time to share experiences and teach the rising generation about our history as a nation and the resulting freedoms we enjoy. A great appreciation of the past is both appropriate, patriotic, and helps preserve our liberties in the future.
Here in Western New York we certainly look forward to this time of the year. It doesn't matter that we had a milder winter than usual; it's just good to finally have warmer weather and sunshine with two more patriotic holidays soon to come. Flag Day and the Fourth of July also offer an opportunity to enjoy summer, family picnics, and proud American traditions. Some local traditions are parades, fireworks, and of course, decorating graves by Memorial Day weekend.
Although this may be the graves of any loved ones, the tradition has its roots from the Civil War. There is evidence that many women in the south decorated graves of war dead with flowers even before the end of the war. Soon after the end of the war, people in the north and south picked up this practice as a way to both honor and mourn their beloved husbands, brothers and sons not blessed to make it back home. Well over half a million men died, and by 1868 an official day was designated where flowers were placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
New York state was one of the first states to recognize the holiday known as Decoration Day. It was only after World War I that the holiday's name was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in any war. Today that number is well over a million from the American Revolution through the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
As we enjoy parades and music this Memorial Day as part of our patriotic observances, we might also contemplate great words from the past. Red poppies are sometimes worn on such days; most likely inspired from the World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields." Composed by a Canadian in medical service during the war and who died in France before the war's end, he wrote in part, "Poppies blow between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly, scarce heard among the guns below. We are dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields."
It has been said that the ground was fertilized from the blood of this battle, with new life springing forth in the form of abundant red poppies. Such new life in the form of a flower also represents the renewed effort to fight for freedom by those remaining; to pass on the duty as written in the poem with, "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields."
The loss of humanity in wars, while possible to contemplate, can never be measured. Robert Sullivan, Captain in the US Army Air Forces during World War II and a speaker at Dunkirk Memorial Day services as found in a 1946 Evening OBSERVER article summed it up well.
"We gather to pay tribute to the memory of those from our community who have given their lives so that this might be a better world to live in. Men from Dunkirk and the surrounding communities have gone forth and participated in every major battle and campaign. Of the lives lost, we cannot comprehend what this means to humanity. We only know that the promise of their minds and the richness of the hearts are gone forever."
Memorial Day is therefore a day to truly remember those who perished and not a day for trivial pursuits. It comes and goes, and as the years pass we find it hard to see that those who were once amongst us are now gone. Before it's too late, get the stories of those veterans yet with us, who most certainly carry in their hearts the memories of their fellow patriots who never came home. Attend a local Memorial Day event to honor this day. Dunkirk's Memorial Day services commence at 10 a.m. at Memorial Park followed by the parade at approximately 11. Earlier in the morning, the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum will also have a short program.
Make it a good week and remember our upcoming Memorial Day parade.
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