Memorial Day: The date on the calendar which decides if I can pair my cute new sandals and peasant blouse with my slightly torn up WHITE jeans.
Or, as my daughter thought when she was younger, MORE OREOS DAY.
NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.
Memorial Day, which will be celebrated on May 28 of this year, is a day to honor all those who died serving in the country’s armed forces. This is not to be confused with Veterans Day which celebrates all U.S. military veterans. Like most holidays, we sometimes need to take a moment to reflect upon the exact significance of the day. That is, what exactly does this day mean to us as a nation? Where would our country be if these brave Americans who came before us had not fought for our nation’s beliefs? And for those we honor on Memorial Day, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, what kind of a world would we live in had they not had believed in our country so strongly?
Where did this holiday come from?
The tradition of decorating the graves of the dead has been around for over twenty-four centuries. It has been dated back to when the Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the soldiers who died in the the Peloponnesian War.
Here in the United States of America, soldiers’ graves have been decorated since before The Civil War, but The Civil War was the largest loss of life our country had ever seen and thus established a need for national cemeteries. Three years after the conclusion of the Civil War, Major General John A. Logan established Decoration Day on May 6, 1868. Some believe that this date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any battle in particular. Many historians agree that it would be a time when many flowers would be in bloom throughout the country to decorate graves. On the first Decoration Day, James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and 5000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Various states claim that they had already been celebrating this holiday. Macon and Columbus Georgia, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and Carbondale, Illinois all had already been observing their own similar holiday for two years. They had already established the tradition of remembering the dead and visiting those graves and beautifying them in some way. Approximately twenty-five cities believe they created the holiday.
One of the more touching stories from people who lay claim to the holiday stems from a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi. These women had gathered to place flowers on the graves of some fallen Confederate soldiers who had died in a battle at Shiloh. Close by were some undecorated graves of fallen Union soldiers. The women were bothered by these naked graves and attended to those graves as well.
The North was not thrilled to celebrate a holiday established in the south so soon after The Civil War. To this day, some states in the south still celebrate their own Decoration Days. These are held in late spring and early summer throughout the south. Various extended family members get together to celebrate the fallen with a religious service and a potluck meal.
The name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day officially in 1967. The next year, Congress passed The Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved four holidays to create three day weekends. Memorial Day moved from its May 30 date to the last Monday in May. After a few years, all fifty states adopted Congress’ change of date. Some were disappointed with this change as it seemed to take away from the solemnity of the holiday.
In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day. One century earlier, a service on May 5, 1866 honored local veterans in Waterloo. Businesses closed and flags flew at half staff. Again, some disagree that Waterloo should not be deemed the birthplace, but supporters of this title believe that earlier celebrations in other places were not as formal, were not celebrated annually, or were not acknowledged as an entire community celebrating together.
It was not until after World War I that the holiday expanded to include all those who had died serving in all American wars.
More recently, In December 2000, The U.S. Congress passed into law The National Moment of Remembrance Act P.L. 105-579. This asks that all Americans stop what they are doing at 3 pm on Memorial Day for a moment of silence to honor those who have died in service for the good of our nation.
Here in Mount Olive, if you’ve been to Turkey Brook Park, you have most likely noticed the ever growing All Veterans Memorial.
It is tough to imagine that the home to so many baseball, football, soccer and lacrosse games could have such a peaceful nook tucked away. While there is much hooting and hollering coming from Mount Playmore, the Splash Pad, or various games and practices, there is a strangely calm and tranquil feeling that emanates from the All Veterans Memorial.
This monument was originally the brainchild of Eric Wood who was looking to work towards his Eagle Scout Award. What makes this Memorial different from many others of its kind is that it honors those lost in all the wars. It honors all veterans, both living and deceased, and not only those connected to Mount Olive It is a monument to all who served during war and peace time in any capacity.
The All Veterans Memorial (AVM) has come to us in five phases and it is a remarkable, beautiful, and peaceful site to gather, pray, meditate, or think. Beginning in 2008 and running all the way up until last year, new additions, each with significant meaning, are added regularly.
In Phase I, The Pentagon Platform recreates the five branches of service represented by five sides and decorated with the name, rank, and conflict of those who served.
A war memorial that was originally at Budd Lake beach was restored and relocated to be included in the AVM. It names thirty fallen members of the community. Also in this first phase, the Global War of Terror Bridge was constructed. It is updated the second week of May each year with new Fallen Hero Pavers.
The Presidential Preamble Stage is created with pavers highlighting each president and a quote that sums up his essence. The beautiful gazebo was dedicated to our former Mayor, Charles H. Johnson who proudly served as a Sergeant in the Air Force 9th Division during World War II. Charles H. Johnson earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Force Medal while serving his country.
Phase II is when the Path to Enduring Freedom was added. It is chronologically and equally divided to represent each war. It too is updated in May each year.
Phase III brought in the North Star Seating and is dedicated to those who lost a loved one during war as well as the the New Jersey Gold Star Mothers.
Phase IV introduced the War Dog Memorial which is in remembrance of the thousands of dogs lost serving our military troops. The four blue stones are set to represent the four freedoms named in FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address. These are freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This was the first time these freedoms were named as part of the American tradition.
Phase V added the Liberty Wall, the Spiritual Cenotaph, and the Warrior Monument.
If you have not visited, this is the time of year to do so. You can reflect upon the amazing country that we live in, and remind yourself of all the veterans who built it.
Whichever side of the aisle you fall on, most would agree that these are some divided times. Especially during this time of uncertainly, it is necessary to truly meditate on the tenacity of soul necessary to serve your country. People choose to serve for a variety of reasons. Some feel a strong sense of patriotism unlike anything many of us can understand. Some feel that they have run out of other options. Some are looking for a sense of belonging, or a desire to be a part of something great, or to see the world, or to make their mark on history. But trying to imagine a scenario that asks me to go somewhere terrifying with the knowledge that I may not ever come home? Perhaps doing so for a cause you may not believe in? I can not fathom it.
Memorial Day is a time to thank God for the courage He gives to those who volunteer in various capacities to hold up the freedoms of our country. Because of these veterans, we can sit on our iPads and complain about the weather on Memorial Day. Is it too hot for a barbecue? Is it too cold to sit outside? Are there enough cookies for MORE OREOS Day? Or we can remember why this day came into practice and thank God for the soldiers who gave our lives for our right to complain about flavorless hamburgers and lukewarm beers.
Choose the latter.