The final Monday in May is Memorial Day, a designated federal holiday to remember the men and women who died while in military service. Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead. This federal holiday was once called Decoration Day, which commemorated the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. It’s not clear where Memorial Day began; but Waterloo, New York first hosted its annual event on May 5, 1866, when businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. In 1966, Waterloo was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country…” General John A. Logan proclaimed that date Decoration Day because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
“For love of country they accepted death,” General James Garfield said at Arlington National Cemetery on the first Memorial Day.
By 1890, each state had made Decoration Day an official holiday to honor those lost while fighting in the Civil War. During World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.
David Jeffers wrote a devotional entitled Eavesdropping on God. “How does one deal with the loss of a child, a spouse, a sibling, or a close friend? What does one do with all the grief that floods the soul in such a time?” Dave asked and then answered. “When we lost Eddie in Iraq…as a man who has buried his only son, may I give you a word of encouragement? You will never get over the loss of your loved one. You do not forget the pain, but you don’t remember the trauma. I’m not sure if that makes sense right now, but over time it will. The mercies of God are fresh and new every morning.” He advises the friends, “looking after their physical needs is one of the kindest and most helpful things you can do…Mundane chores in a time of grief can seem as a mountain of responsibility…So be the quiet and helpful friend meeting their basic needs.”
Although Eddie’s death was a shock, Dave takes comfort in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believeth in me, though he may die, he shall live.”
Here is one stanza from “Ode of Remembrance” by English poet Laurence Binyon, commemorating the fallen Allied forces of World War I:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
“We will remember them.” Sometimes we translate that “lest we forget” and “Never forget.” Remember them so the mistakes of the past are not repeated ― so young patriots, like Eddie Jeffers, will not have died in vain.