A few things you might not know about Memorial Day

 Other than the Fourth of July, I think Memorial Day is one of the most beloved American holidays, at least among the holidays that take place during warm weather. But although shopping, barbecues, the Indianapolis 500, the beach and fireworks are all part of the fun, let’s not forget what Memorial Day is all about.

As holidays go, it’s one of the most solemn we observe.

Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, the day when the graves of those who died in battle were decorated. And thankfully, that tradition continues. For a long time it happened every May 30 and although that day still stands as the official date, the observation of the holiday was changed in 1968 to provide a three-day weekend.

Besides decorating the graves of the fallen, there are some solemn ways to remember those who died, traditions that you may not even know about.

Did you know, for example, that the U.S. flag only flies at half-staff for half the day on Memorial Day? On that day, the flag is raised to the top of the staff at dawn and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon. It’s then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.

Why? The half-staff position remembers more than 1 million men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who promise not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to instead rise up in their place to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Probably the best way to honor the fallen is to visit a local cemetery and place flags on the graves of veterans buried there. Two places where the holiday will be observed in full force are the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the Arlington National Cemetery.

At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, everyone should pause for one minute and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Taps should be played. If you don’t happen to be a bugler, you can listen to it courtesy of the Army training manual.

Although there are no official words to taps, these are the most popular and beautiful ones. As such, I’d like to end my column with them. Have a safe and solemn Memorial Day, everyone.

Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, From the skies. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, May the soldier, or sailor, God keep. On the land, or the deep, Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go, When the day, And the night, Need thee so? All is well. Speedeth all, To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar, Goeth day, And the stars, Shineth bright, Fare thee well; Day has gone, Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days, 'Neath the sun, Neath the stars, 'Neath the sky, As we go, This we know, God is nigh.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 Candyce Jillson California

Thank you for this wonderful article. I was horrified when I heard several co-workers making plans for the day off and stating they had no idea what the day was for. These are college educated young people in their late 20's. I am 50 this year but was taught the importance of holidays and the appreciation of our amazing military members and their families for their bravery, sacrificies and unwavering duty to protect us. Amazing thoughts and well written John. Take care all.

Sat, May 28, 2011 Willy

I didn't know about that half mast flag procedure. I've seen the flag fully up on Memorial Day afternoon and figured someone had messed up. But now I know the truth. Thank you.

Fri, May 27, 2011

Always, our gratitude for those that gave "the last measure". Historically there have been people and forces that threaten freedom; those that came before us recognized that in their time, and personally did something about it. We face the same thing today, and considering the efficiency of communications, transportation, and weaponry, in more ways than ever before. This defines the fight in different and unfamiliar ways compared to our parents day, but all the more emphasizes the aphorism (slightly reworded here), 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men and women do nothing'. If we learn from history, we can see that the battles today may be very different, but our foundation is the same, and our commitment to preserve and persevere must be ever be so.

Thanks for the article.

Fri, May 27, 2011 Allen Shepard

"Those who defend the country, those of us making a country worth defending. Something worth living for - not just dying for" - A. Shepard --- Remember not just those who died, those who fought or the wounded living with us. Say even a quick thanks. Better what we have. My whish is to "Have more freedom, security and privacy than our founding fathers had or could have imagined"

Fri, May 27, 2011

Outstanding article! Thanks!

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