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Memorial Day: A Time of Honor and Respect

Our rights and freedoms came at a high price.

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Memorial Day is a day for Americans to honor and offer respect to the military men and women who gave their lives to protect their country, its people, and our and liberties. It is a somber day that reminds us our constitutional rights come at a high price and should never be taken for granted.

Held the last Monday in May, it was first known as Decoration Day and began at the end of the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any other conflict in America’s history. Due to so many deaths, the nation had to create cemeteries for the soldiers. Towns started decorating their lost warriors’ graves in the late 1860s, but Memorial Day didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971.

No one knows where the tradition started but the government named Waterloo, New York, as the official place of origin. Waterloo had its first celebration on May 5, 1866.

The Red Poppy

Have you ever wondered why the red poppy is seen during Memorial and Veterans Days? The tradition got its start during World War I in Europe. After brutal battles ravaged the land, the field poppy was one of the first plants to reappear. The sight inspired Canadian soldier and physician John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915. Flanders is a region in Belgium where McCrae fought.

Just days before WWI ended, in November 1918, American professor Moina Michael was inspired by McCrae’s poem which led her to write her own, We Shall Keep the Faith. In the poem, she mentions honoring the dead by wearing the “poppy red.” She became known as “The Poppy Lady,” and the tradition of wearing a single poppy was born.

Memorial Day Traditions

In the past, Memorial Day was usually celebrated with parades and gravesite services to honor and show respect for those who gave their lives in duty to their country. Military graves were decorated with flowers and flags, and people gathered to hear stories and service songs.

This year, however, the Coronavirus lockdown has made it impossible to pay our respects to the fallen in traditional ways. Tributes are still being made, but they are broadcast over cable television and the internet instead of attended in person.

“In Flanders Fields”

by John McCrae, May 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
n 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.

“We Shall Keep the Faith”

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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