This day was originally called Decoration Day.
More than two dozen towns across the country have laid claim to having been the first to honor those slain in our Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers, but Waterloo, N.Y., appears to have been officially recognized at the birthplace of Decoration Day for a ceremony they observed on May 5, 1866 when they placed flowers on the graves, closed businesses for the day, and flew flags at half-mast. By 1868 the custom was wide-spread (its observance encouraged by the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union war veterans) and there was a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery attended by thousands.
Time passed and more soldiers died in more wars; after World War I Decoration Day became a day to honor our dead from all wars.
That was a poem I knew from early childhood -- my father would recite it sometimes in his garden, where he grew poppies from seeds he had brought home from his service in Europe during World War II.
Although the name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day -- and the date of observance was changed in 1971 from May 30th to the last Monday in May (so that Congress -- ever a collection of craven politicians -- could curry favor with public employee unions).
My childhood memories are of a day of hot sunshine, featuring the annual Memorial Day parade -- marching bands and marching troops and marching veterans -- and my favorite, an old truck converted into a caricature of an old steam locomotive operated by La Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Cheaux, a society formed by World War One veterans (the name based on the French railway freight cars that transported them being labelled as holding forty men or eight horses -- and sometimes it was obvious that they were being carried to the front lines in a car that had most recently been occupied by horses). Those World War One vets were mostly in their fifties when I watched the parade as a child; I do not know how many American veterans remain from that conflict, but it is a number that dwindles rapidly every year.
The Sunday Times (London) earlier this spring ran an article about how "almost 85 years after the guns of the western front fell silent," the British veterans of that conflict planned to meet for one last reunion:
I can remember when there was still a handful of Civil War veterans alive, centenarians all, who had mostly lied about their ages to join the war or who had been bugle boys. Gone now, all gone for decades. I can remember when many of the World War Two vets marching in the parade were still young men, still in their twenties. Now I understand that almost five million remain of the sixteen million Americans who served, but their number decreases by more than a thousand per day.
Every year at this time members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars can be found -- usually near a supermarket entrance -- exchanging Buddy Poppies for donations to disabled veterans (the American Legion usually does the same around Veteran's Day in November). [I know that artificial poppies have similar meanings in Australia and Canada and I assume they do in England as well.]
Let us remember those who fought to protect us -- not just today, but everyday.
The background to today's entry matches the weather outside.