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May 23, 2017

Doc Halliday: Memorial Day


Doc Halliday

Doc Halliday

By William ‘Doc’ Halliday

Let’s not confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is the holiday for remembering those men and women who have died while serving our country in one of our Armed Forces. On the other hand, Veterans Day celebrates the service of all those who have worn the uniform of one of our military branches.

While some people believe that Decoration Day was started after the Civil War, they are mistaken. Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day, but the practice started much earlier than the Civil war; thousands of years earlier.

Over 3,000 years ago the Medes were burying their dead in gardens in order to keep them close to those who remained alive. They occupied an area that is now Northwestern Iran and Southeastern Turkey. They were the predecessors of the Kurds who occupy that area today.

This practice was embraced and copied by the Phoenicians. The Grecians copied this practice from the Phoenicians, and the Romans derived their version of it from the Grecians. In Rome, eminent individuals were buried in gardens, or in fields near public roads. The purpose was to enable the decoration of their monuments with flowers. Baskets of lilies and violets were placed in the graves of married individuals. Single women would had roses placed in their grave.

Throughout the Roman Empire, monuments to prominent men would be decorated with garlands and chaplets of flowers. A chaplet is a wreath for the head. When Jesus was crucified, he was made to wear a chaplet of thorns instead of flowers. This action wasn’t taken just to cause pain; it was to mock the practice of using a flower chaplet to decorate a monument.

In China, the custom of planting flowers on the graves of friends dates back to ancient times. On the island of Java, the indigenous people would throw flowers on the bodies of dead friends. The practice has been noted throughout the world, to include the British Isles and the Americas. Some Native Americans on this continent would never allow any weed or even a blade of grass to degrade the grave of a friend.

In this country the practice of a family gathering or reunion existed long before the Civil War. Families from great distances would gather each spring at the cemetery and clear the debris and undesirable growth from around the graves. These family reunions at the cemetery continued the tradition of decorating the graves with flowers. The families who came to these gatherings would bring food to share. This was the start of potluck dinners.

But it was the Civil War that caused such an unprecedented amount of deaths, over 600,000. These burials, far from their own family cemeteries, prompted local people to organize efforts to clean and decorate the graves. This occurred in numerous locations throughout the war ravaged states. In 1863, President Lincoln dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which added impetus to the movement.

By 1868 celebrations were held at 183 cemeteries. The following year, 1869, there were celebrations at 336 cemeteries. Celebrations became an opportunity for veteran organizations and other groups to promote their causes whether those causes were beneficial or not.

While the first use of the name Memorial Day was recorded in 1882, it was slow to take hold. Most people continued to refer to the occasion as Decoration Day. It became the more common name only after World War 2, and became official in 1967.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect in 1971, moving the holiday from May 30th to the last Monday in May. There are some, including myself, who believe that the traditional date is better. Beginning in 1987, Daniel Inouye, a U.S. Senator from Hawaii introduced a resolution to return the holiday to its traditional date. He introduced this measure every year until his death in 2012. The Senator was a U.S. Army veteran who fought in World War 2 in the illustrious 442nd Infantry Regiment. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), of which I am a member, has also advocated the return of the holiday to its traditional date.

Poppies have become a popular symbol and decoration for both graves and lapels on this holiday. This started with the publication of a poem; “In Flanders Fields” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae in May of 1915. The first line of that poem reads: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow”.

If you display a flag, and I hope you do for this holiday, please follow the proper protocol. The flag should be raised briskly to the top of the pole, and lowered solemnly to a half-mast position. It should remain at half-mast until noon when it should be raised 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 in service of this country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living. Those living resolve not to let the sacrifice of those who have died be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

I would like to leave you with one thought. Some of you grew up reading comic books, and believing that heroes wear capes. That is only true in comic books or perhaps in movies. The truth is that that in real life, real heroes don’t wear capes; they wear dog tags!

Doc Halliday can be contacted at doc@dochalliday.us

ve given their lives in service of this country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living. Those living resolve not to let the sacrifice of those who have died be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

I would like to leave you with one thought. Some of you grew up reading comic books, and believing that heroes wear capes. That is only true in comic books or perhaps in movies. The truth is that that in real life, real heroes don’t wear capes; they wear dog tags!

Doc Halliday can be contacted at doc@dochalliday.us

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