I wonder what those first women, who decorated the graves of their Civil War husbands and sons, would think of Memorial Day as it is today. Would they shake their heads in utter disbelief? Could they imagine that such a solemn day, set aside to remember those smiling, brave men who rallied in the town square to fight for their way of life, and who died in over 10,000 places, would gravitate to become a joyous holiday? For many, this day off from work is not to remember them, but to begin the start of summer.
Originally used to personally place floral tributes on the graves of those who wore uniforms of their sides as a remembrance, the day has morphed into a strange holiday.
Fortunately, many veterans who gave up years of their lives to defend the nation, and who returned home, still revere Memorial Day as a solemn day, not a thrilling weekend to be merry. Others, who were not fortunate, who gave their all for the nation, for us, rest in graves around the world.
Countless thousands of them repose just off the beach in Normandy, others rest under the blazing Pacific sun on remote islands, and still others rest in neat rows marked by crosses and stars of David in once bloody World War I and II battlefields in France and Belgium.
For the families of those lost soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and Coast Guard members, Memorial Day is anything but a time to rejoice in their loss.
It's often crossed my mind the burden that must come to a speaker at a Memorial Day observance. Whether at Arlington National Cemetery or in Cape May County, the task has to be monumental.
Regardless of how well educated the speaker, what rank or rate, if any, he or she held, or how patriotic they might be, what words can express the meaning of Memorial Day? How can the meaning be framed so that children of today can understand the utter depth of despair of mothers and fathers who never forgot the day a telegram arrived or a chaplain knocked on their door bearing grim news?
In their grasping for meaningful words to utter to those gathered reverently to observe the day, some may recite the words penned by a Canadian doctor Lt. Col John McCrae after he regarded the senseless bloodshed of World War I, "In Flanders Fields."
Others may reflect on President Lincoln's words from the "Gettysburg Address," "From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion..."
Regardless of the words spoken or by whom, the fact that they were voiced in a land still free is a testament to the fact that those dead have not died in vain. Who knows what the future holds? It might be that someday in the future, the masses will decide that Memorial Day no longer has a purpose.
I hope there will always be enough veterans who will never forget the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters who paid for our freedom. I hope this nation will always have those willing to serve, regardless of the danger.
We veterans never dreamed we would wear a uniform, carry a gun, aim artillery, press a button that dropped bombs, or unleashed torpedoes from their tubes.
We were not happy to do those things, and most of the time we were scared beyond belief to be in foreign places, knowing we were the target of an enemy's bullet, but we did what we were ordered to do, no more no less.
Some of us lived to tell about it. Those who didn't, we honor on Memorial Day. Their extreme sacrifices made it possible for us to stand before the red, white and blue. It's them that we honor on Memorial Day.