Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day: Remembering Those Who Sacrificed for us . . .

Dear Readers,

This is a rerun of last year's May holiday post, but since today is Memorial Day in the U.S., I thought it was fitting
to again remember what this day is about. If this post is new to you, I hope you will learn some facts you didn't already know as I did while I was researching for this article. Thank you for visiting FavoritePASTimes today.

Memorial Day, or at that time, Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed by General John Logan who was the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ group, on May 5, 1868. It was first celebrated that same year on May 30th when flowers were laid on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

For some time, many had remembered those who had fallen during the Civil War, at separate times and places. Eventually, after WWI, the memory of those who died in other wars was also honored. Since 1971, the last Monday of May has been celebrated as Memorial Day, when it was declared a federal holiday. Many today also choose to honor those who are currently serving in the military, as well as veterans, at this time.

Many will recognize “In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row . . .”
as the famous WWI poem by Canadian Army physician John McCrae. But are you familiar with a poem written in response by Moina Michael in 1918? Miss Michael was teaching at the University of Georgia when the U.S. became involved in WWI. She had hoped to become a volunteer with the Overseas YMCA War Workers, but was rejected because of her age. She was 49 at the time. However, a position was secured for her at the training headquarters in New York City.

She was deeply moved by McCrae’s poem, originally named “We Shall Not Sleep” as she read it in Ladies Home Journal. Though she had read it before, the last verse suddenly spoke out to her. In reply, Miss Michael wrote “We Shall Keep the Faith” in November of 1918:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet - to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

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,

But lends a luster to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

A gift of money spurred her on to buy silk poppies that she distributed to her colleagues to wear in memory of the WWI fallen. With the positive response that she received, Moina Michaels began to campaign for the poppy to be adopted as a national symbol to remind those at home of soldiers lost.

As she visited wounded soldiers in New York hospitals, while working for the Overseas YMCA War Workers, she sought to find out what else could be done for them. When she returned the University of Georgia, she taught a class of disabled servicemen and realized some of the additional needs they and their families had. Because of her work, the American Legion adopted the poppy as a symbol for remembering war veterans. They developed the program where veterans could earn an income through making the poppies for sale in the United States, starting in 1921. This idea spread to France and beyond.

Moina Michael was honored for her humanitarian efforts with awards, and even a commemorative stamp a few years after her death.

Memorial Day is a perfect time to remember, reflect on and be thankful for those who sacrificed so much so that we can celebrate freely with our families today.

May you have a happy Memorial Day with those you love!

Acknowledgements and good web sites for further information:


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