Memorial Day, cemeteries, and memorials

When people thank me for my service on Memorial Day, I’m apt to redirect their thanks – “You may thank me for my service on any other day, but today is about honoring those who didn’t come back home.” Preceding every Memorial Day are rounds of articles, postings, and – now days – memeish status posts reminding us the day is not about BBQ, store sales, or sporting events.  I don’t wish to stereotype readers, but I would guess most of you understand that point and recognize the purpose of the day.

The roots of Memorial Day lay with the Decoration Day practiced throughout the country in the years and decades following the Civil War.  During my youth, my perception was that Memorial Day observances leaned more towards World War II subjects.  Not so much to take away from those who died in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, or the other wars.  Rather, as I look back, more so because the memories of World War II and sacrifices given during that time were very much present, even in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Memorial – Kennett, Missouri

Listing the names of all those who died in the wars of the Twentieth Century, World War II has two of the four columns.  I could easily cite more memorials like this across the country.   World War II was a “deep cut” that was, and still is, remembered with strong feelings.  Not unlike the Civil War in that respect.

I can’t recall when that memorial went up on the Dunklin County Courthouse lawn.  But I recall it was there when I left for my first duty assignment in the Army.  The memorial serves, particularly as I write this today, as a centerpiece to the community’s Memorial Day observances.  And if you click that link, you’ll see other, perhaps smaller, visible observances – flags over graves in the cemetery.  Kennett, Missouri is not unlike thousands of other communities in that regard.

Small American flags decorate our cemeteries, drawing attention from the more “communal” memorials to the individual sacrifices.  In some cases, the headstone stands over the final resting place.  In others the headstone is but a permanent placeholder, more something for the living to hold onto (I wrote about one of those last year).

Today I live within an easy drive of more national cemeteries than I can count.  These range from the smallest…

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Hampton VAMC

… to the largest …

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Arlington National Cemetery and Arlington House

… to some which are integral parts of the battlefields …

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Balls Bluff National Cemetery

… to some of the more memorable and storied places of sacrifice…

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Gettysburg National Cemetery

… and others were the sacrifice is “known only to God.”

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Memorial to unknown dead retrieved from Bull Run and nearby battlefields

For me, these places are not just for commemoration, but also contemplation.  Futures are crafted from the sacrifices of the past.

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2 thoughts on “Memorial Day, cemeteries, and memorials

  1. Craig, this is well written and like the cemeteries and memorials, it gives an opportunity for contemplation. Thank you for this thought provoking article and for so much more! K

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