Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays. It's a day that we set aside to reflect on those who gave the supreme sacrifice to maintain our American freedoms. Unfortunately, this holiday has morphed into a celebration of the beginning of summer and for most is nothing more than a long weekend and time set aside for recreation with family and friends. I'm not saying it shouldn't be those things, but I would encourage everyone to spend some time in reflection on the true meaning of Memorial Day. One of my favorite ways to do this is watching the National Memorial Day Concert every year on PBS. It always makes me so thankful for this nation that God has blessed us to live in.

Memorial Day has changed in meaning for me over the years. As a kid in the 70's & 80's, Memorial Day meant spending time gathered with family and neighbors at the local cemetery. "Decoration Sunday", as we called it, was something I always looked forward to as a kid. In Scipio, OK where my grandparents lived, the entire community would gather (about 50-100 people in all) at the Hugh Low Cemetery. Most churches would dismiss and combine services at the cemetery for an "all day singing and dinner on the grounds". Everyone would bring and share food. It was always a huge spread! To be honest, a more accurate description would be "all day eating and singing on the grounds." The cemetery had a pavilion where there would be plenty of southern gospel singing and people shouting out requests for their favorite hymns. Usually Grandpa Myers would give a sermon and there might even be a "testimony service" where people would stand and share how God had blessed them and give public thanks for his guidance and protection over their lives.

For all the kids present, we were much more interested in the cemetery itself. It's not often a kid gets a legal excuse to roam a cemetery. It was a treasure hunt of sorts. Headstones are fascinating objects to kids. Finding one around 100 years old was something worth bragging about. Hugh Low even had an Indian (Native American) grave which consisted of a pile of stones above ground. That was the stuff of fairy tales to us.

It was called Decoration Sunday for a reason. What normally looked like a dismal piece of property transformed into color and activity. Every stone had flowers and many had flags in front of them. I remember much care was taken in making sure the Myers' plots were presentable and decorated. There was something sad and almost shameful about a neglected headstone.

Memorial Day took on a completely different feeling for me while I was in the Army. I was stationed in Washington DC for 3 years. DC is a great place to be for Memorial Day. The National Mall is buzzing with activity. If you ever get to walk along the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Memorial Day, you'll never forget it. The sight of thousands of letters, mementos, and make-shift memorials left at the wall will bring tears to the toughest of men.

My favorite part of Memorial Day was that my unit, the 3d US Infantry - The Old Guard, was responsible for placing a flag in front of every single headstone in Arlington Cemetery. We would start around 4 or 5 a.m. and work at it for several hours. Placing our toe against the stone and putting the flag in the ground at the end of the heal of our boots. Once you started a row, you had to finish it by yourself so that every flag in that row would be exactly the same distance from the stones. I remember as I placed the flags I would read the names. The concept of "supreme sacrifice" became very real to me during the three times I had the honor of decorating Arlington.

Thank God for those who gave "the last full measure"!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jeff for the tribute to our soldiers. You are so right we have made into something that so often is void of what has truly given us the freedoms we are privilieged to have today. And it's amazing what you have remembered about those Memorial weekends in Scipio. I have exactly the same memories of "Decoration Day" in Locke, Ark. But there was one thing that always freaked me & my cousins out - when we would find a headstone of someone we knew who was still living. To us that seemed really "weird & eerie". Now it only means they made their plan in advance, which seems pretty smart. Have a great weekend, see ya soon. Love Mom