A moment to remember

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.

-- Moina Michael

“In Flanders Fields,” 1915

Monday marks the official start to Summer 2009 and according to AAA, lower gas prices and enticing travel bargains are encouraging a 1.5 percent increase over last year of people who will celebrate Memorial Day away from home. In real numbers, this means 32.4 million will be on the road or in the air this weekend, regardless of our unstable economy or the unpredictable nature of the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as the swine flu.

We’re camping and hiking; fishing and boating. We’re marinating ribs, peeling spuds for potato salad, and displaying our flags. We’re planting flowers. Building additions onto our decks and riding our horses. I expect most Whidbey Islanders will take full advantage of the sunny weather predictions and long days. After all, we slugged our way through the Winter of 2009, referred to at our house as the winter that would not end. It’s time to get outside and enjoy the unique beauty of our island.

But Memorial Day is much more than a three-day weekend. Originally declared Decoration Day in the mid-1800s to honor those who perished in the Civil War, the name was changed to Memorial Day in 1882 to commemorate those who died in all wars and conflicts. Over time, most families viewed the holiday as a time to include all loved ones who had died. I distinctly recall my dad describing Decoration Day as a time in his boyhood when the entire family made a pilgrimage to the local cemetery to clean up the Oklahoma prairie surrounding his family’s grave markers. They finished by decorating each spot with flags for veterans and flowers for civilians before departing for home. There, a picnic awaited either in town, at a neighbor’s farm, or at the family church.

It was in 1971 that President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day to be celebrated as a federal holiday on the last Monday of May, diminishing in many people’s eyes the value of this traditional observance. They worry that many Americans will vacation and simply forget the historical significance of the day, neglect to honor military grave sites, and unknowingly mishandle and improperly display the American flag.

There is a very notable exception, however. Since the late 1950s, soldiers in the Third U.S. Infantry have placed small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They patrol the site throughout the weekend to ensure each flag stands tall.

And in an effort to remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution was passed in December of 2000. It asks all Americans to stop at 3 p.m. local time to “Voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’.”

It is our good fortune to not only live in a country that values freedom, but to be part of a military community made up of the finest men and women serving our nation. In my mind, faithful living not only includes matters of faith, but also understanding the history behind our holidays and passing on the lessons to our children and community members. Let’s display our flags, talk about our family members who have contributed in myriad ways to the betterment of our lives, honor those who have lived and died, and formally thank our loving God for each and every one of them.

Heaven will not forget. Neither will we.

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