Memorial Day honors lives of veterans lost in war

You’d think the reason for Memorial Day was to bring back happy memories, but it’s not, you know.

To bring back memories, surely, but likely not the happiest of memories.

Memorial Day honors veterans who fought and died to keep America safe. Originally called Decoration Day, it was conceived in early May 1868 by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and first observed on May 30, 1868.

There used to be parades on Memorial Day, with people winding their way through cemeteries, laying flowers at veterans’ graves. Sometimes a single wreath was set up, as a collective honor. And as happens with all customs, things change.

It might have been that people decided to place flowers at the graves of their loved ones, too, even if they hadn’t died in service to the country. It may have been that people didn’t know anyone who died in war and felt ill at ease decorating strangers’ graves. It might have been – well, it might have been a lot of reasons that gave Decoration Day turned Memorial Day to the masses.

When the government proclaimed Memorial Day to be the last Monday of the month so there would be a three-day weekend, the importance of decorating veterans’ graves might have slipped under the radar, giving way to the beginning of summer and family holidays. Memorial Day changed clothes.

Some people may call it outrageous, this loss of ceremony, but when you think about it, you can see how family gatherings create a closeness worth fighting for. Few men or women agree to risk their lives in the service of our country without someone at home worth fighting for.

Bobbie Black Briggs lives in Illinois now, but comes home every year to be part of the Memorial Day ceremony at the Otho Cemetery. Raised on the north side of Dolliver Park, she’s 90 years old and can remember the local ceremony for most of those years.

As the story goes, she said, a Civil War soldier, Clark Fuller, came home from the war to find two of his young daughters had died in 1863 and had been buried by his father on family land. The elder Fuller later gave that land to the community to use as a cemetery.

Bobbie said school children would gather flowers from home gardens, then parade through the cemetery on Memorial Day, putting those flowers on graves. When she was 4 years old, she was not allowed to march in this little parade and said she stood screaming because she wanted to be part of the celebration. It was a call of honor to her, even then.

Americans have always risen to the call, leaving home and family to serve a common good.

Memorial Day might best be described by the words on the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Not for fame or reward; not for place or for rank; not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity; but in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it. These men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all, and died.”

And that’s why Memorial Day is celebrated.

So long friend, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at