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Memorial Day

Mollie LaSalle
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Memorial Day is right around the corner. May 29 is the date this year of the unofficial start of summer, but this day is so much more than that.

The origins of the holiday began way back in the 1860’s at the end of the Civil War. The Civil War claimed more lives than any other war in our nation’s history and led to the establishment of our first national cemeteries. Memorial Day traditions began in 1868 and was originally known as “Decoration Day”. General John A. Logan was the leader of an organization of Civil War veterans and called for a nationwide day of remembrance in May of that year. May 30 was selected for the purpose of decorating the graves of fallen comrades who died in defense of their country.

This particular date was picked because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

On May 30, 1868, General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and more 5,000 people decorated the graves of more than 20,000 soldiers interred there. Originally, Decoration Day honored only those who died in the Civil War. During WWI, the holiday evolved to commemorate those soldiers, and later, included fallen soldiers from every major conflict, including WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The date of May 30 was observed for decades until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to give federal employees a three- day weekend. This change went into effect in 1971; the same law declared it a national holiday. In cities and towns across the country there are observances of Memorial Day; the most popular are parades and visits to cemeteries to decorate fallen military personnel graves.

In Tyler County, it has become a tradition to place flags at the graves of veterans. Magnolia, Campground and Colmesneil City Cemeteries have been placing flags for the last several years. It truly is awe inspiring to drive by these places and see all the flags flying in the breeze. This is also when you will see people out in front of the stores selling “Buddy Poppies”.

The Buddy Poppy symbolizes a vivid red flower and has become synonymous with great loss of life in war. Selling replicas of the original Flanders poppy was originally to provide relief for the people of war-torn France after WWI.

There are a myriad of ways to honor America’s fallen on this day, just as there are things not to do. You absolutely should not wish anyone “Happy Memorial Day”; it was established to honor and remember the dead. You shouldn’t thank current members of the military; they deserve respect every day, but this is for the fallen. Do not disregard the importance of this day. Go ahead and have a cook-out or get some great deals at the big box retailer or spend the weekend at the beach or lake. At the end of the day, take time out to remember what this day means and find your own way to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

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