Happy Memorial Day! I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our soldiers who have fought for freedom, especially those who have paid with their lives. I think there is no greater bravery than risking your life for an ideal, for the future happiness and freedom of people you will never meet, all because you believe in a country. Even the Bible echoes this sentiment in John 15:13 with a quote that’s become so famous as to transcend religion: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
For a lot of Americans, a big part of Memorial Day is watching war movies on AMC and outdoor barbecues (always thought that one was spelled with a “q,” but Merriam-Webster disagrees!). But when did the holiday start?
According to the official website for the holiday, the idea for Memorial Day popped up in many different areas around the country during the 1860s, post-Civil War. The first official observation of it was on May 30, 1868, when people placed flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. No matter how many times I visit the Cemetery, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and awe. It’s always a sobering experience. When I was in eighth grade, I won an essay contest that gave me the honor of participating in the wreath-laying ceremony on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when our class went to Washington, D.C. I’ll never forget that experience.
Another tradition associated with Memorial Day is that of wearing red poppies to honor the dead. Apparently, the custom started because of a poem that Moina Michael wrote in 1915:
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.
I think it’s a beautiful sentiment and tradition. Recently, the Duchess of Cambridge, a.k.a. Kate Middleton, has re-invigorated the tradition (in an international sense) by modeling the pin herself.
I actually bought the pin for my sister for her birthday last year, and part of what I love about the pin is the proceeds go to the Royal British Legion, a nonprofit charity that aids veterans, enlistees, and their families. If you’d like to buy one just like hers, you can buy one here. Of course, you could also roll down your car window and buy the simpler ones from the VFW representatives you see selling at traffic lights. 🙂 Buying those “provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation’s veterans,” says the website hyperlinked above.
Another neat thing I got to do in D.C. when I went with my family in 2006 was to visit the new National WWII Memorial.
This memorial had special meaning to our family. My paternal grandfather really wanted to participate in the war efforts, but because he’d had an elevator accident earlier in life that left him with a prosthetic leg, he was unable to go into active duty. However, he didn’t let his physical impairment stop him from making a difference. He got his chance to participate by being the official driver for an American colonel during the war as well as working in a munitions factory. It seems like a small duty, but it’s the compilation of all those small duties that enable the bigger action to happen successfully. I can just imagine how the colonel was discussing strategic plans in the back seat of the car while my grandpa drove him to important meetings, or how my grandpa might have made one of the crucial pieces of armament in the war. 🙂
Although I never got the chance to meet him (he died right before I was born), my grandpa has always been an inspiration to me. He achieved so much throughout his lifetime; besides his war efforts, he was also an engineer and inventor, a conductor of his own band, a violinist, a boxer, a father of three kids and a dog, and more. What a combination! But even before my TBI, I was inspired by how he never let “disability” define him as a person or limit his achievements. I am very proud to leave you with this final image, which is a screenshot of my grandpa’s record in the WWII Memorial registry.