Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is an American holiday observed the last Monday of May to honor men and women who died in the military, said to have begun after the Civil War when mothers and others decorated the graves of not only their families of the South but of the North as well.
The tradition has gone on and expanded across the world as evidenced by a siren and a two-minute standstill in Israel on May 11, 2016 when Prime Minister Netanyahu held a ceremony at the Mount Hazel Cemetery. As he said, “We the members of bereaved families, don’t need Memorial Day to remember our loved ones, but on this day the entire nation is with us embracing us with love.”
The first national celebration was held when Congressman James Garfield made a speech and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers.
He said, “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke, but we do know they summed it up and perfected by one supreme act the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death and thus resolved all doubts and made immoral their patriotism and their virtue."
New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day by the late 1800s and more cities and communities observed Memorial Day and declared it a legal holiday.
Traditionally ,the President or Vice President lays a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
My grandmother, who would have been 116 in June, remembered when she and the other children in school would go to the cemetery in Geneva to decorate the graves, a meaningful ceremony that has continued with services to this day.
When I was at the clinic in Albert Lea recently I observed two small, elderly men walking down the hall. Once they reached the end of the hallway they decided to sit a spell on a bench.
I noted one of them wearing a veternan’s cap, so I went and asked if he was. He said, “Yes,” and I thanked him for his service and proceeded to give him a big hug and he held my hand a bit. He grinned from ear to ear and proceeded to introduce me to his twin brother. They were obviously very proud.
These two men in their late 90s were a joy to walk with. When we were going to part ways one of the men was still holding my hand. He said, “Thank You,” and I gave him another hug and he said, “It is for people like you we fought in the war.”
Needless to say, they made my day and the experience is one I will never forget. I hope you will take time to remember our service men and women and their families. Their sacrifice can’t be matched.
Some of the veterans didn’t come back. There is a plaque in the Ellendale Cemetery which commemorates our fallen heroes. The plaque says, “That though he isn’t here – he is!”
With Memorial Day soon upon us I am reminded of something that occurred during a past Memorial Day observance.
I observed a little girl nearby. She quietly gathered a few wildflowers, arranged them in her hand, and then gently laid them on a name plate of a fallen soldier. She didn’t know him, but she knew he should be honored and remembered. It was an incident I will never forget. She was so little and what she did so big and honorable. I believe she was Pete Paulson’s daughter, and she knows the sacrifice servicemen have made.
Let us not forget those who year after year decorate the graves, march, salute and honor our veterans on Memorial Day and every day. The faces are familiar because they are descents of those who have gone this route before. The names echo as they honor those who cannot be there. The grave marker was for Eugene Ottesen. If you have opportunity to find the books, “Bloody Road To Panmunjom”by Edwin Hoyt, or “The Coldest Winter” by David Halbertson, which are out of print, they give credit to Eugene’s bravery and the life he may have given.
It is a one-day holiday, but it requires days of preparation by the various military units. They remember. For others it is a three-day holiday to enjoy family picnics, fishing, camping, and yes, to remember. It is a time to remember, lest we forget.
Memorial Day. You don’t want to be there? Neither did those who gave their lives, their time away from family, friends and jobs and whose dreams were changed by something too horrible to think about.
If it is too much to ask, at least take time to thank God for those who gave so much and appreciate their sacrifice.
No, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to enjoy a three-day holiday but please remember why you are able to do so. Thank a veteran, today and every day, and pray for a day there will be no war!
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Birthdays and anniversaries:
• Thursday, May 19th: Christina Hill Berry, Madison Schweirjohann, Summer Schember Schultz, Mike Rysavy, John Oolman, Dawn Parks, Tim & Tiffany Hanson
• Friday, May 20th: Oakley Baker, Kaye Schember Cady, Laureen Hohansee, Scott Stohr, Kathy Hanson, Hannah Ashton, Carrie Thorstenson, Penny Nordhorn, Haley Collins, Kevin Peterson, Kent Lageson, Josh Kelly, Virginia Jensen, Cynthia Butler, Hannah Ashton, Jay & Marsha Neitzel, Ed & Camille Nelson, Adam & Kristen Arends
• Saturday, May 21st: Bernie & Sue Swenson, 1977, Tony Dodge, Christopher Flim, Tom Wilker, Joel Cooper, Ryan Parks
• Sunday, May 22nd: David Eliason, Christine Thompson Krause, Lori Lembke, Scott Dirksen, Pat Horan, Jim Obermoller, Michael Sarver, Roger Thompson, Andrew Grunwald, Karla Hanson, Dick Swift, Chuck & Susan Grubish, Toni and James Perschbacker
• Monday, May 23rd: Stephane Paul Martin, her 6th; Will Richard Utpadel, his 8th: Ilsbeth Wayne, Jeanne Simonson, Melissa Shaunce, Burton Borchert, Orville Langlie, Karen Quam, Rodney & Peggy Sorenson, Jeff & Sara Miller
• Tuesday, May 24th: David Christensen, Reta Draayer, Nina Widlund
• Wednesday, May 25th: Dakota Matthew Kath, his 11th: Riley Dean Disher, his 9th; Jack Harpel, Jackie Johnson Miller, Jim Pichner, Cara Christensen, Valerie Peterson, Richard Fetterly, Bill Nechanicky, Rick Miller, Deb Parks, Paul Reese, Troy & Kelly Utpadel, Dave & Barbara Van Gorkom
May you find joy and pleasure all around you on your special day!