According to my records, this is the 33rd column I have written for The Herald-Mail. Thirty-three is a lucky number to some, and it reminds me of a beer many of us drank while serving in Vietnam — Ba Moui Ba, or Bierre 33 as the French would say. These memories of luck and beer are relevant to me and many "brothers and sisters in arms" as today is part of the Memorial Day weekend.
My mother and father, like most of the country years ago, called the 30th of May "Decoration Day." This was before "three-day weekends" and the bastardization of remembrance days to afford many of us another day off work. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the time off, but now I long for a simpler way to follow time and I wish the Memorial Day holiday would return to the 30th day of May.
Memorial Day was inaugurated on May 30, 1868, by order of Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The day included the placing of wreaths (decorations) on Union and Confederate graves at Arlington Cemetery. The purpose of the day was to remember those who gave their lives during the Civil War. It wasn't until the early 1900s, after America's involvement in other wars, that most states celebrated the day of remembrance. Southern states were the last holdouts. The day was officially recognized by Congress in 1966.
After World War I, the red poppy became the symbol of Decoration Day, likely because of a poem penned by Moina Michael in response to the popular John McCrea poem, "In Flanders Fields."
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.
I wrote this column May 22 as I was preparing my remarks for yesterday's Memorial Day ceremony at Rose Hill Cemetery. I have used portions of those remarks in this column.
I am profoundly moved each year with the celebration now called Memorial Day. In its original form, a day of remembrance was set aside to recall those who died in harm's way serving our nation in times of war. Over the years, this day has taken on the mantle of remembering all of those who have gone before us. In many ways, I revel in this new approach as I remember each Memorial Day — no, every day — those New York City fire and police members who died in harm's way during the event known today as 9/11.
I like to remember my father, disqualified for military service, who worked at home on the C&O railroad to help deliver war material to factories all across our great nation. I like to remember "Rosie the Riveter," who took her place on the assembly line to build the implements of war while others were off at the front.
I like to remember husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and all of those who sent their kinfolk off to war. I cannot fathom the grief some felt when those loved ones did not return. I like to remember all of those who stayed at home, never saw the rockets' red glare or felt the bombs bursting in air, yet gave a fair measure in support of our nation.
Gen. George S. Patton Jr. remarked: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." (My thanks to Jim Rosko of Boonsboro who quoted Patton in his May 22 letter to the editor for the reminder). That timeless remark brings me to my conclusion.
It is altogether proper that we remember all of those who have gone before us. But let us also remember those who live today and keep us free. Today, and every day, let us give thanks for the lives of the men and women who serve this nation in uniforms proudly displaying the insignias of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. And also those who serve as police, fire and rescue, security and in many other jobs that protect our freedom. Rejoice that these men and women live today.
God bless each and every one of them. And God bless America.
Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.