Poppies, Flags, Flowers, and Waterloo

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

“Ceremonies are important. But our gratitude has to be more than visits to the troops, and once-a-year Memorial Day ceremonies. We honor the dead best by treating the living well.”- Jennifer M. Granhol

I firmly remember being a child and going with my grandma and my mom to buy the Decoration Day flowers a couple of weeks prior to Memorial Day. (Yes, at that point, many of my elders still referred to the holiday as Decoration Day.) I remember going cemetery to cemetery throughout the county laying the flowers and the sight of so many tiny flags planted in the ground at the foot of so many graves. Grandma would always point out that the person resting there was a veteran of some war or other. I also remember the men in the funny hats and sashes being around town at stoplights and storefronts giving out those paper poppies and asking for donations. Mom and Grandma never seemed entirely comfortable interacting with the vets from the Legion passing out the tiny red flowers with a green stem which would be wound around a purse strap or the rearview mirror. I was never sure why they seemed uncomfortable, and I never asked. Now that I’m an adult and am married to a Marine, I kind of think it had something to do with the profoundness of what those guys had been through for the rest of us. It was a stark reminder that a wolf was always at the door, and someone had to be the one to beat it off at times. As for the little girl me, I never understood the significance of nor correlation of the poppies to Memorial Day until years later.

It was in fact The American Legion that brought the tradition of the poppies to the U.S. when they asked Congress to designate the Friday prior to Memorial Day as Poppy Day. In 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion and in 1924, distribution of the flowers became a nationwide event. (www.legion.org) It’s been going strong ever since. The poppies symbolize the blood shed during the battles of World War I. They are indeed a stark reminder of the wolves in the world and what it takes to beat them back.

So, one can see how the poppies became interwoven with Memorial Day, which has been around since the mid-1800s and stands in remembrance of those who’ve given the ultimate price for the freedom of others. Although it’s been celebrated annually since then, it wasn’t until 1966 that our federal government declared Waterloo the official birthplace of Memorial Day. (Memorial Day 2022: Facts, Meaning & Traditions – HISTORY)

Over the years, being married to the military, I’ve heard all sides of the argument as to the significance of Memorial Day and how it should or should not be celebrated. Many times, I’ve been asked my opinion. I’ve written a few articles here and there regarding the subject. I’ve even explained at times why my husband has a hard time hearing Happy Memorial Day from well-meaning folks. My opinion to date comes to this. I grew up celebrating Memorial Day much as the rest of America does, with a back yard cookout. It was seen as much a day to leave flowers on the graves of civilians and patriots alike as the official start to summer.

These days, however, after having spent 25 years married to my very own hero and witnessing the sacrifices of war far too up close and personal, it’s a more somber occasion around our house. We do participate in the laying of flowers for civilian and patriot alike and we almost always grill something, but while we’re laying those flowers and enjoying our meal, we’re remembering those who’ve gone before so that we might enjoy that meal in peace. The remembering is bittersweet for us because while we have fond memories of those friends who we’ve known and who’ve paid the ultimate price, we still miss them. Their names are indelibly etched across our memories and our hearts. Their personalities still as bright as the sun. They will not be forgotten. We don’t begrudge anyone for the way they celebrate the day, because those who’ve fallen would want all of America to honor their sacrifice by exercising the freedom to do so. So, this Memorial Day, visit the graves, lay the flowers, grill the burgers and dogs. Do whatever it is that makes the day special for you and your family. But at the end of the day, in remembrance and in honor of the lives laid down, raise a glass and salute them, giving thanks that

those few, those happy few, those band of brothers” (and sisters)

Shakespeare

stood between us and a wolf. And always, always treat the living well.

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