Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 28

Military men:


Requiem for a fallen comrade:

Memorial Day 2016

These days we observe the Federal holiday called Memorial Day on the last Monday in May with parades, picnics and cookouts, while celebrating the “unofficial” start of the summer season (it’s still spring!). Pools open, beach houses are made ready for the season, and families retrieve patio furniture from storage.

But Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day and dates back to the time just after the Civil War, as a means of honoring the more than 700,000 (current revised estimate) soldiers who died during the 1860s. For decades Decoration Day was observed by placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers on May 30. By coincidence, this year Memorial Day falls on May 30. Although the name “Memorial Day” became common after World War II, it was not declared the official name change by Federal law until 1967. The following year Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, which gave us four three-day weekends each year (thank you, Congress!). When that restructured Memorial Day observance became Federal law in 1971, not all states were willing to comply. Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today, when we honor more than 1,300,000 brave souls who gave their lives to protect our nation so that the rest of us may enjoy peace and liberty. A proper observance begins in the morning with a brisk raising of the national flag, immediately followed by a solemn lowering to half staff until noon, when it is once more raised to full staff for the remainder of the day. So now we know.

Because I live in the Washington DC area I frequently see our national memorials to the war dead. Until recently I lived in a condo that overlooked Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Iwo Jima Memorial. This weekend Army 3rd Infantry Regiment personnel are placing 230,000 flags in front of the white stone grave markers that undulate across the fields of the cemetery. As an organist, I have played for dozens of military funerals (which must last no more than 20 minutes to accommodate the volume of requested services) at the Old Post Chapel adjacent to the cemetery gates. Somehow I have never been able to become inured to this, especially when I see the flag-draped casket atop a caisson upon leaving the building. A team of six horses pulls the casket to the grave site. I am strongly affected emotionally as a personal witness to these funeral rites. On average this chapel hosts 1,000 funerals (four a day, five days a week) and 300 weddings annually.

A note from your blogger: Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives in military service, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. Glad to clear that up.

The unofficial start of the summer season: