From soldiers deployed overseas to families in the backyard, people across the nation take a moment on the final Monday each May to honor our fallen veterans. These six captivating pictures show the great variety — yet singular dedication — to this solemn occasion.
6. “Flags In” at Arlington
It has become a Memorial Day tradition on the part of the 3rd Infantry Division, (The Old Guard) to place flags on every grave at Arlington National Cemetery. They are placed with military precision, one boot length from each stone. It is a powerful way to remember each Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Coast Guardsman, and Marine who died while serving this country, and who now rests beneath those stones in those hallowed grounds. It will take days for the Old Guard to complete this task, but when they are finished and the sun rises on Memorial Day again this year, the grounds of that sacred place will be ablaze with color. Though it is a place of somber remembrance, it will boast a celebratory air that day. The same will be true in cemeteries where veterans are buried all across the country. It is good for us to remember those who have served and to celebrate what they gave in service to us all.
5. Flags and Flower Leis
It is particularly good to teach the young the meaning of this day. Our young people need to be taught the meaning of this day, and why we celebrate it with so much pomp and circumstance. They need to be taught why this nation is worth that cost as well. And they need to know that when the freedoms this nation represents are threatened, some will be asked to answer the call to serve. They need to be taught that of those who have done so, all gave something of themselves to the service of the nation, but some, like those who we honor on Memorial Day, gave everything. They gave “the last full measure of their devotion” in order to preserve those freedoms.
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4. Honoring the Sacrifice
Each generation of veterans hopes that by their sacrifices will have secured the nation for the generations to come.
3. Changing of the Guard
Memorial Day is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May. The practice of celebrating it began after the Civil War. People had been in the practice of decorating the graves of veterans before and during the Civil War, but it was always on a very local scale. That cataclysmic event of the Civil War, with its over 700,000 deaths, meant that burial and memorialization to on new cultural significance. In those days, there were memorial day-like ceremonies in both the North and the South, for their respective fallen. Over time, the name for that day gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. This latter name became most common after WWII, but was not declared official until June 28, 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which placed it and three other holidays to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day holiday for each. Memorial Day was moved from its traditional date of May 30th to the last Monday of May.
2. Remembering the Fallen
Troops stationed in Korea, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, and many other places, will gather that day to remember those who have served just as they are serving now. In some places, like Afghanistan, they will also remember those who have served and died in the war that they are still engaged in. In many of those places, the local people will come to honor those Americans who have fallen fighting for them as well.
6. Protecting the Future
On Memorial Day, it is the tradition to raise the flag of the United States briskly to the top of the staff, then to solemnly lower it to half-staff position until noon, when it is raised again to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position is to remember the more than one million men and women who have given their lives for this country. There will be a National Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, which will be broadcast on PBS and NPR. There will be parades held around the country that will be enthusiastically attended by local crowds.
If you live near a military cemetery, or one that has a section dedicated to the military, take your family and attend the ceremonies, or watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS. Then, go and celebrate your family picnics on that three day weekend that has been set aside to remember those that fell in service to the country so that we all could enjoy the freedoms we have.
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.