A day that we honor the fallen

Published 1:11 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023

By Jan Penton-Miller


Memorial Day this year is on Monday the 29th. The unofficial beginning of summer is traditionally filled with barbeques and parties, and coincides with Memorial Day. 

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Summertime itself is truly a reason to celebrate, but it’s important that we remember how and why the holiday originated.

We are so blessed to live in the greatest nation on earth, and many men and women sacrificed so that we can enjoy the lives we live. On this special holiday we honor those who gave all for their country.

The Civil War ended in the spring of 1865 claiming more lives than any conflict in U.S. history. 

The first national cemeteries were established because of this. Americans in towns and cities began holding springtime tributes to the numerous fallen soldiers. They recited prayers and decorated the graves of those lost to war.

Many communities began this tradition so it is hard to pinpoint the exact origin. One of the earliest recorded Memorial Day celebrations was organized in 1865 by a group of people in Charleston, S.C., who had only recently been freed from slavery. I can only imagine the emotion that went with those first few celebrations.

The first national observance of Memorial Day was on May 30, 1868, and was called Decoration Day.  The soldier’s graves were decorated with flowers, wreaths, and flags. After World War I it became a day to honor those who died in all American Wars.

Both Veterans Day and Memorial Day are federal holidays designed to pay homage to the members of the U.S military, but there are differences. Those who were killed in or as a result of battle are honored on Memorial Day. Veterans Day came into being after World War I and is a day to honor all service men and women.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid.  They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” Harry S. Truman

On Memorial Day flags are to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, and then raised to the top of the staff until sunset, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. When flags are no longer serviceable it is important that they be discarded in an appropriate manner. 

The American Legion passed a resolution about flag retirement ceremonies in 1937, and the approved method is by burning.

My grandson’s Scout troop held a flag retirement ceremony last year. I love that he is learning so many wonderful things through the scouting program. 

Often Scout troops and VFW and American Legion Posts retire flags with all the pomp and circumstance they deserve, but individuals can also hold their own small ceremony. Synthetic flags should not be burned and should be folded correctly and buried in a dignified box or recycled.

Enjoy your celebrations this year, but give some thought to the men and women who gave so much.