By Michael “Mick” Shaughnessy, Chaplain Post 109

On Monday, May 31st we observe Memorial Day to commemorate American Service members who died in the line of duty. While the observance is often mistaken for a holiday to honor all military – lumped with Veterans Day, Service Members and Veterans are most often those who carry out the various traditions associated with the holiday.

The holiday is considered the beginning of summer but the choice of late May for the observation may have had more to do with flowers being in full bloom everywhere in the country as flowers are a key element in much of the tradition. In ancient Greece and Rome societies honored their war dead by decorating their graves and statues with flowers and pennants; the use of flowers continues to the present day.

Memorial Day probably began shortly after the Civil War when a group of freed slaves decorated the graves of Union Soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina and similar observations were taken up throughout the country. In 1868, GEN John Alexander Logan ordered the holiday to be observed by the Union Army by decorating the graves of the war dead and conducting ceremonies in military cemeteries. He specified May 30th as Decoration Day, picking a date that did not coincide with any specific Civil War battle or event. The holiday remained May 30th until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act designated federal holidays on Mondays and Decoration Day became Memorial Day, observed the last Monday in May each year.

Another tradition unique to the day involves the raising of the American Flag to half-staff in the morning and then raised to full staff at noon. It has also become a practice to observe a moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time as a remembrance. Two other traditions of the day most associated with the American Legion involve decorating Service Members graves with American flags and the wearing of red “Buddy Poppies,” a tradition dating from the WW I poem “In Flanders Fields.” While the pandemic continues to impact public events and observations, I encourage all in our community to take a moment on Memorial Day to reflect on those Service Members no longer with us.

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