Monday, May 25, 2015

Decoration Day

“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing…” –Proverbs 10:7 Memorial Day is a National holiday in the U.S. set aside to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is a day to reflect and be thankful for those, in the military, who gave their lives for our wonderful country. While so many men and women went off to foreign lands, never to return, many died right here in the country they loved. But they all paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom. The practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Some call it Decoration Day and others Memorial Day. Soldiers' graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. The losses were catastrophic and America, as a society, struggled to process through it all. The first Civil War soldier's grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Though not for Union soldiers, there is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers' graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Jeanie and I were there almost exactly a year ago, and the cemetery was beautiful. Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The sheer number of soldiers on both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. That’s really the point of it all. And it’s that message that we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Though, hopefully, they won’t have to fight in a war, they can still validate the memory of those who died by living freedom well. The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. It was given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. While Lincoln certainly honored the memory of those who died in the battle, he also had a message for us as well. “It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Our “great task” is to live freedom well. It’s to honor them for sure, but it’s also to honor all living Americans. It’s to show respect and devotion and love to all brothers and sisters. Like someone said, “It’s easy to love mankind, but much more difficult to love your neighbor.” So may God bless the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives so that America might be free. May God bless every family who misses their loved ones. And may God strengthen every American to practice freedom well. May we honor them… …by honoring each other. By Eric Joseph Staples ©