Some of my earliest memories involve cemeteries. I’m not talking about the country cemeteries where many of my relatives are buried. I’m also not talking about the above ground cemeteries of New Orleans surrounded by mausoleums and interstates. I’m talking about the cemeteries on various military bases with seemingly endless rows of whitewashed headstones marking the graves of men and women who had given their all in service to our country, to my country.
For many, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer. It’s a time for picnics, day trips, Blockbuster movies, or furniture sales. However, it means so much more than that, and it all started in a cemetery. In Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War, a few black residents organized a burial of deceased Union prisoners, built a fence around the site, and established a cemetery in their honor. On May 1, 1865, they held an event at the site, complete with a parade, singing, scripture reading, and a picnic.
Over the next several years, groups gathered at cemeteries to honor and “decorate” the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers who had given their lives in the Civil War. It’s been reported that General Ulysses S. Grant led an observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Many 30, 1873. Over 5,000 people attended to show respect as the orphaned children and widows of soldiers and sailors killed during the war placed flowers and small American flags on the graves of the honored deceased.
Originally known as “Decoration Day” because of the decorated graves and tombstones, Memorial is now celebrated on the last Monday of May. In 2000, the U.S. Congress and the President signed into law the National Moment of Remembrance Act. This encourages all Americans to pause at 3pm local time for one minute of silence.
I’m going to do my best to observe that law this Memorial Day. And during that moment of silence, I’m going to remember the oceans of tombstones of my childhood and thank God for those who gave their lives for our country.
* Photo courtesy of Chad Stembridge
**Thanks, Dad, for serving in the U.S. Marines for 22 years.