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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I am so grateful to have been able to spend a wonderful holiday weekend with both of my families and our friends. I can't help but think about the reason we were able to spend this time together...

Memorial Day

It seems that the traditional observances of Memorial Day have faded over the years. It is unfortunate that many of us have forgotten the history of Memorial Day. From decorating grave sites…to standing along flag strewn streets as marching bands and the Color Guard pass by…to proudly wearing a red poppy…to taking a simple moment of silence to honor all those amazing men and women who have selflessly given their time, service and lives so that we may have a Memorial Day to freely celebrate.

I too have lost sight of the incredible weight that this day carries. As I look back through pictures of this past weekend with my family and friends, I am struck by one particular image. I stood at the base of an old light house, straining to see my sister and nephew looking back at me. I didn’t catch their image in the camera’s lens…but I was blessed to have captured a beautiful picture to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day.

The photo prompted me to take a deeper look at the history of Memorial Day. It is my pleasure to share a few highlights with you…

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a special day of remembrance for all those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the true birthplace of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th 1868 by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30th 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War, as early as 1862.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the historic day. Instead they chose to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. At this time the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war.

It is not important who was the very first to celebrate the day...or even where. What is important is that Memorial Day was in fact established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

In 1915 Moina Michael wrote:

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

She then conceived the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need.

Later, Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to sell poppies nationally. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy Program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

One tradition that is seldom seen is the display of a "service flag" or "service banner". It is the unofficial banner that family members of service men and women in harm's way can display. The flag or banner (as seen above) has a white field with a red border and a central blue star for each family member in active duty. A gold star (with a blue edge) represents a family member that died during service. The flag dates back to the early 1900’s. In 1917 it was read into the Congressional Record that the Mayor of Cleveland, the Chamber of Commerce and the Governor of Ohio officially adopted this service flag. “The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother — their children.”

I was very lucky to have spent this past Memorial Day weekend in Chagrin Falls, Ohio with both the Graham and Craig families. We celebrated a cousin's wedding...honored my parents' 46th wedding anniversay...reminisced at Scott's High School Reunion...ate way too much at the Taste of Chagrin...watched all the kids scramble for candy at the Blossom Time Parade...and spent lots of time laughing and simply enjoying our time together at a big family cook-out. I am blessed in many ways, surrounded by family...traditions both old and new...and lots of love.

However you may chose to celebrate Memorial Day, it is important to remember those who served and died for all of us. Wave a flag at a parade, decorate the grave of a fallen soldier, wear a poppy on your lapel or say a prayer of thanks before your picnic.

Always remember and never forget.
God bless the men and women of the United States Armed Forces...May He bring peace and comfort to the families who have suffered the greatest loss.

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