Today is Memorial Day. For most, the day is simply a Federal Holiday signaling the beginning of summer. But the holiday dates back to May 30, 1868, then known as Decoration Day; the holiday was proclaimed by Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic to honor the Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. This national observance was preceded by many local ones between the end of the Civil War and Logan’s declaration. As a result, many cities and people have claimed to be the first to observe it. However, in 2022, the National Cemetery Administration, a Department of Veterans Affairs division, credited Mary Ann Williams with originating the “idea of strewing the graves of Civil War soldiers – Union and Confederate” with flowers.
In 1915, following the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Its opening lines refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in Flanders.
In 1918, inspired by the poem, YWCA worker Moina Michael attended a YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed over two dozen more to others present. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as its official symbol of remembrance.
James Madison Ragland
in his United States Marines uniform
James Madison Ragland, USMC
Today, I remember my father, James Madison Ragland, who proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War (er, Conflict). While my dad was alive, he proudly wore a Marine Corps baseball cap on this day (and on most days)
I thought I’d share a poem written for the original Decoration Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
During the 1860s, Longfellow supported abolitionism and hoped for reconciliation between the Northern and Southern states after the American Civil War. His son was injured during the war, and he wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” later the basis of the carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. He wrote in his journal in 1878: “I have only one desire, and that is for harmony, and a frank and honest understanding between North and South.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Portrait photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1868
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound, your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
Siemper Fie, Dad.
Debora Ragland Buerk
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