Memorial Day, One Year Ago Today

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Hello everyone, and Happy Monday. I know a lot of you probably won’t be reading this today since it’s a holiday for most people – I hope you enjoy the shortened work week.

Memorial Day is one of those holidays that many people don’t think much about. It’s just a day off. That’s why I’m going to share part of a viewer email. Shane sent this as a reminder of the meaning of the holiday:

“Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for
those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its
actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being
the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s
groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a
hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet
carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves
of the Confederate Dead” (Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet
Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of
Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove
conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate
beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of
people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need
to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that
culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not
important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was
established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it
is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868
by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers
were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington
National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New
York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South
refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after
World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

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.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years.
Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.”

The other thing on my mind today is the one year anniversary of the tornado that ripped through northeast Iowa. I’ve covered a lot of severe weather during my time as a reporter in this state, but I’ve never seen anything like the damage in Parkersburg. Even more amazing is the cleanup and rebuilding that’s happened since. It’s testament to the resilience, character and pride of the people there and it should make us all take a moment to reflect on what’s really important in our lives.


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