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Honoring with Poppies and Flags

27 May

Memorial Day Weekend has always been a tradition of planting the garden in my family. This is about a week after our frost free date, so naturally, everyone is talking about planting the garden on Memorial Day. I do recall while growing up going to parades, or my mother visiting the cemetery to plant something on someone’s grave that I never knew. I think it would have been a cousin of hers, or my great grandfather. We would cook hot dogs on the grill and eat potato salad, raise the American flag on the flag pole, and if I was lucky, get to go to the beach. I never knew anyone that died in a war, although my dad and step dad both served state side in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy. I just found my grandpa’s draft card for World War II. My son is serving in the U.S. Marine Reserves. I am proud and thankful for them all; including the men and women I don’t know who have and are serving in the military. I don’t agree that war is always the answer, but is has, and will probably always be, the way of our world.


Photo of my son courtesy of Toni Elliott-Lee

I think that my generation fell short from many of the traditions of my parents. I hadn’t experienced a war in my lifetime, or at least one that I could remember, so I never felt close to it. After 9-11, I thought differently. And when my son chose the military, well, it really opened my eyes and I could never imagine what families experience when they lose someone due to war. I wanted to know and understand more about Memorial Day and what it meant, not just plant my garden this weekend. So by doing very little research,I learned a little history from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website. This holiday was started to honor the people who have lost their lives while serving our country. Planting flowers on the graves of the people that died during their service on “Decoration Day” has been a tradition since its declaration by Major General John A. Logan three years after the Civil War ended in 1868. It was celebrated throughout the country on May 30th honoring those lost in the Civil War by the end of the 19th century. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and was meant to honor all service men and women who have died in American wars.

Soon after the first distribution in 1922, the VFW adopted the poppy as the official memorial flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. You may be familiar with the paper poppies mounted on a green wire with a white paper tag being sold for a dollar at the intersections in your town by members if the VFW. These are assembled by disabled veterans or those veterans in need of financial assistance. This morning when I went out to my garden, this poppy had just bloomed overnight and now holds a whole new meaning. My garden will always have red poppies from here on out.

In 1971 Memorial Day was changed to the last Monday in May by Congress and in 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” which encourages Americans to pause in a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m. to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. The change of date has caused some controversy, and there is an attempt to change back to the original date of May 30th.

So whether you are gardening or attending a parade, planting in a cemetery or cooking on the grill, whatever day, the last Monday in May, or May 30th, take a moment to honor those who have died in service. Now I will grow red poppies in my garden, maybe reciting the poem by John McCrae In Flander’s Field when they bloom, and as always, I will plant my garden and raise the flag while remembering those who served and lost their lives to make sure I have the freedom to do what I chose.

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