Monday, May 26, 2014

American Memorial Day

Soldiers place individual flags on the nearly 
300,000 headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.
Today is a very special holiday in America, a day when we honor service members--both men and women--who have died to serve our country and make sure we keep the many freedoms we have.

When we remember, we have memories, and that is why Memorial Day is a day for remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. When someone has made the ultimate sacrifice, it means that he or she has died fighting to protect our many freedoms.
The WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, to honor
all those who served during that time.
(personal photo)
The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, a solemn place of remembrance,
where it is common for people to place objects in honor of
those who have died. Objects vary, from teddy bears, to flags
and photos, and love letters.  (personal photo)
A common theme of many war memorials is
the inscription of names of those who served
and who died. This is a way to personalize the
cost of war, and to immortalize those who gave all.
(personal photo) 
Flowers are another common way to remember those who have died,
and to honor them. Many of the notes say thank you for your service.
(personal photo)
On Memorial Day, there are many common traditions, or ways of thinking or doing something for a long time. One tradition I think is beautiful is when soldiers place American flags at each of the headstones in national cemeteries. 

A solemn but stunning view of the hundreds of thousands
of gravesites with flags, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Another tradition is when the flag of the United States is raised quickly to the top of the staff, or pole, and then lowered to the half-staff  position until noon. At noon, it is once again raised to full-staff for the rest of the day. When it is raised, or lifted back up to the top, those who are alive resolve (promise) to continue to protect our freedoms and liberty.
These flags are being flown at half-mast, from
sunrise until noon on Memorial Day.
This flag is being flown at full-staff, which
means it is raised all the way to the top of
the pole. Flags are raised to full-staff at
noon on Memorial Day.
Parades are another traditional event, and they are held all over the country--some are small, and some are very large. Marching bands, servicemen and servicewomen, veterans, flags, and military vehicles from different wars are common sights to see. 
A parade led by servicemen representing all branches of the military.
Poppies are flowers people wear to represent the fallen soldiers. It is a tradition that originated with a poem written by John McRae about the poppies that he saw amid the dirt trenches, battle sites, and burial sites in Flanders, Belgium during WWI. Moina Michael was a lady who read McRae's poem and thought the poppy should become a symbol to honor all the soldiers who had died. 

These are poppies my son and I wore today. They
are worn to honor soldiers, but people often donate
money for them. This money goes to help Veterans,
often those who may be disabled.

Even our cat Lilly loves the poppies!

Each year on Memorial Day, there is a ceremony, or formal ritual for significant events, in which the President of the United States lays a wreath of flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington, Virginia. A tomb is a place where the dead are buried, but this one is special because those  who are here are soldiers who are unidentified, or not known. There are soldiers from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (although the remains from the Vietnam soldier have since been identified and removed)
A soldier from the Old Guard performs a meticulous routine based
around the number 21, a number of high honor in the military. These
guards do not wear any rank, because they do not want to "outrank"
any of the unknown soldiers in the tomb. They "walk the mat" 24
hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter what the weather is.
President Obama lays a wreath of flowers at the Tomb
of the Unknown Soldier
 in 2013.

One more common tradition is the playing of Taps in honor and remembrance of those who have fallen. It is generally played on an instrument called the bugle, at funerals and at dusk. Servicemen and women salute while this is played.

I hope you enjoy your "day off", but please remember why we celebrate Memorial Day. Encourage those you know to take time to remember, and to be thankful for the many freedoms and liberties we enjoy as Americans. 

If you are reading this from another country, we would love to know how you remember those who have given their lives in service.

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