NEWS FROM THE HILLS

Many folks across our nation will find a deeper meaning to Memorial Day this year. The reality of war has touched and saddened families who have lost loved ones killed and maimed in the defense of our country.

The desire to honor our fallen soldiers began after the Civil War. Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead were held in various places. In Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866, a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh.

The neglected graves of Union soldiers were nearby, forsaken because they were the enemy. The women were disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, and they placed some of their flowers on those graves as well.

Waterloo, NY, is recognized as the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances were either informal, not community-wide, or one-time events. In the spring of 1866, townspeople adopted the idea, suggested by druggist Henry C. Welles, that honor should be shown to the patriotic dead of the Civil War by decorating their graves.

Crosses, wreathes, and bouquets of flowers were made for each veteran’s grave. Flags were flown at half-mast, and the village was decorated with evergreen boughs and mourning black streamers.
Waterloo commemorates each Memorial Day with a parade, speeches, and solemn observances. They intend to keep the meaning of Memorial Day as it was originally intended to be.

General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, was the first to give official recognition to Memorial Day. It was known as “Decoration Day” and the date of observance designated as May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

His touching orders were for his posts to decorate graves “with the choicest flowers of springtime,” and included “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance” . . . “Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The custom of special services goes much farther back than the Civil War. The Athenian leader Pericles, over 24 centuries ago, offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War with this statement, “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not in stone but in the hearts of men.”

This touching tribute can be applied to the millions of Americans who have died in the nation’s wars, and is particularly fitting today as we see our brave armed forces risking their lives daily to ensure our liberty and freedom. We should offer much prayer to God in their behalf, that He would protect, guide and comfort them.

I am afraid that there is much more criticism than prayer being made. We are instructed by the Bible in 2 Timothy: 1-2 to pray. I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

We must pray for the leaders of our countries as well as for those who are engaged in combat. God is our strength, and the backbone of our country has been the prayers of the faithful. We must strive to keep this liberty.

In recent years, the custom of decorating graves has grown to include the graves of all our departed loved ones. We grew up with the ritual of going to “THE graveyard” (called that because to us our family cemetery was the only one) on Decoration Day. Along the way, we picked wildflowers to add to our parents’ offering of roses, peonies, and irises.

It was not a sad occasion to us children, as the grandparents buried there were long dead, and the little baby cousins had died before we knew them. We decorated their graves with flowers, then romped and played with our numerous cousins. Death really had no meaning to us then, as it had not touched us in a personal way.

Now as the years have passed, and taken many of our loved ones in death, Memorial Day has a solemn meaning to us. As we place flowers on the graves of parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and grandchildren, it is merely a public commemoration of the memories of them buried deep in our hearts.

I hope that this Memorial Day and the days that lie ahead be saturated with fervent prayer for our country, for one another, and for “quiet and peaceable lives.”

The Waynedale News Staff
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Alyce Faye Bragg

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