Memorial Day-- time to pause, reflect

  • Published
  • By Col. Lynn Jobes
  • 932nd Combat Support Group
Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day. For many, it means a long weekend, family gatherings, hot grills, and auto racing. However, the
true meaning of this day is a bit more somber and reverent. For some it's a day spent in one of countless cemeteries across the country and on foreign soil in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our nation in times of war. 

Although the true origins of the holiday are a bit vague, many cities and organizations in the years immediately following the Civil War began decorating the graves of the war dead and establishing various gatherings to honor those who gave their all.

This practice gained momentum until May 5, 1868, when General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans, established Decoration Day as a time set aside to honor the sacrifices of all Civil War dead by decorating their graves, issuing General Order No. 11 with the following declaration:

"The 30th day 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 church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

By the First World War, all of the northern states recognized the holiday on May 30, while the southern states resisted and celebrated at other times. However, after World War I, the observance changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war, and May 30 became the national standard.

In 1915, Miona Michael, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," had the idea of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day. Later, artificial poppies were sold to raise money for the orphans and widows of those killed in World War I and the Veterans of Foreign Wars eventually took up the cause with their "Buddy" Poppy Program selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans.

Today, many of them are plastic, but no less a poignant symbol of remembrance. The holiday had only individual state recognition until Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971, establishing the observed holiday on the last Monday in May.  The actual holiday is still May 30, but Congress made allowance for the three-day weekend. Over time, the three-day weekend seems to have diluted interest and awareness of the holiday meaning.

As a result, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed in 2000 which asks that all Americans, at 3 p.m. local time, "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to '"Taps."  Today, this is a key moment of many community Memorial Day observances.
By the time this edition of the Gateway is published, I'm sure many members of the 932nd Airlift Wing will already be making plans for the Memorial Day weekend. If possible, check your local area for parades and cemetery observances you and your family can attend. (See page 8 for the Belleville Memorial Day parade.)
Look for VFW members handing out poppies; get one and wear it proudly. If you fly the flag, do so at the customary half-staff until noon. Perhaps take a moment and read the following lines by Miona Michael, also inspired by "In Flanders Fields."

We cherish too, the Poppy red; That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies; That blood of heroes never dies.

Whatever your holiday weekend activities are, be safe, enjoy the day, but make time for your "Moment of Remembrance."