Memorial Day has become so much more than Decoration Day!
by Charlie Leck
We stopped by a couple of cemeteries yesterday and paid our respects. We were very impressed with the decorations left at so many of the graves by families, or perhaps dear friends, who had come to remember and placed there beautifully arranged flowers and flags.
There are a number of ideas about where and when Memorial Day really began; that is, where its historical roots are. Women of the South, it is said, were decorating the graves of soldiers who lost their lives in the war between the states immediately after the end of that conflict. On the early text of a hymn, called Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping (by Nella L. Sweet) there is a dedication “To the ladies of the South, who are decorating the graves of the confederate dead.” [Library of Congress citation]
Though the holiday was originally meant to be a day to remember especially the lives and sacrifices of those who served in the various branches of our U.S. Military, for Anne and me it’s become a day to remember family gone to their eternal rests. So, because Anne’s family roots are in this geographic region, we stopped by to nod a greeting to her extraordinary father (Lyman). His brother, our dear Uncle Sam, was also put to rest there and we gave thought to him as well -- and also to their father and mother, Anne’s grandparents. Lyman and Sam both served heroically in World War II.
From there we drove to the Union Cemetery, which had been a part of Anne’s great-great-grandfather’s settlement farm and was set aside during the Civil War as a place to bury boys of the village whose bodies were returned from the battles in the South and East. Anne’s great-great and great-grandparents on her father’s side are there, as well as uncles, aunts and distant cousins. A marker there also memorializes a great-great uncle who died in Tennessee during the Civil War and was buried down there. The gravesites sit on a hill that looks out over Long Lake and it is a peaceful and lovely spot. Nature has decorated it so well. The flowers, flags and ribbons left behind are only minor touches of decoration dabbed on a splendid natural canvas.
Union Cemetery, on land sold by Anne’s great-great-grandfather to the City of Long Lake for two dollars in 1862, is a special place where the breezes seems to play a threnody for the dead. The setting makes me think of Flanders Fields.
In Flanders FieldsI always think of my father on this day, too. He served in the U.S. Cavalry in the Great War. He never much liked to talk about it. To him it was something horrible and ultimately too sad. And, as I looked out over the lake on this peaceful, beautiful day, I paid respects, too, to my mother and my blessed, wonderful sister.
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.