It was Memorial Day, early morning. I had mounted my flag into it’s holder on the front porch column, and had settled into my rocking chair with a glass of iced tea to enjoy the sunshine and cool morning breeze.
Just when I had almost dosed off to sleep, I heard a hearty, “Good morning, Sonny!” I open groggy eyes and there stood my old friend Geezer, all chipper and dressed in his VFW hat, white shirt and dark blue pants. His shoes were all spit-polished black.
“Geezer,” I almost shouted, “what in the world are you all decked out for this early?”
“It’s Memorial Day, Sonny!” Geezer replied. “I’ve got a big day planned. You ought to come along.”
“I can’t, Geezer,” I said, “I’ve got some stuff planned with the family today.” Geezer gave me that long, silent look. “Well,” he finally said, “I see you’re at least flying the good old red, white and blue, although it should be at half-staff, you know.”
“That’s your problem, Sonny,” Geezer said. “All I’m saying is, it should be at half-staff today.” I thought I saw a bit of a sly grin on old Geezer’s lips. I didn’t say anything. I just stood, went into the house and brought back a pitcher of iced tea and an extra glass. Geezer poured himself a glass and took a long guzzle. “It’s going to be a long morning,” I silently thought.
“Well, let’s get started,” Geezer said as he finished his tea. “Let’s get started what?” I said, with a modicum of disgust unable to be withheld. I knew he was up to something.
“OK,” he went on as if I’d said nothing, “I’ve got some great Memorial Day quotes and a couple of poems I printed off the computer, and I thought we could gather around the flag and take turns reciting them out loud.”
“But …” Before I could say anything, Geezer interrupted, “Stand at attention, Sonny, we’re going to give our fallen heroes the honor they deserve!”
Oh, well … I followed Geezer into the yard and we both stood facing the flag. He gave me a sheet of paper and he kept one. “I’ll begin,” he said, “and we’ll take turns reading the quotes, then the poems. After that we’ll have a moment of silence and give Old Glory a salute. You ready?”
Geezer began, then I followed as we took turns reading:
“Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.
- Daniel Webster
“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.
- Joseph Drake
“Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism?
- Henry Ward Beecher
“Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen, Was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.
- Richard Watson Gilder
“Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead! There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old, but, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
- Rupert Brooke
“Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays. The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blossoms.
- Thomas Bailey Aldrich
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
- Author Unknown
“Green sods are all their monuments; and yet it tells a nobler history than pillared piles or the eternal pyramids.
- James Gates Percival
“Heroism is latent in every human soul – However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all the self-denials – privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-long hurts and losses, death itself – for some great good, dimly seen but dearly held.
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
“I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did.
- Benjamin Harrison
“On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes of a mighty nation!
- Thomas William Parsons
“Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth, rest to each faithful eye that weepeth.
- Thomas Moore
“The hero dead cannot expire: The dead still play their part.
- Charles Sangster
“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust; Their courage nerves a thousand living men.
- Minot J. Savage
“The patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree.
- Thomas Campbell
“The purpose of all war is peace.
- Saint Augustine
“They are dead; but they live in each Patriot’s breast, And their names are engraven on honor’s bright crest.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.
- Joseph Campbell”
“How sleep the brave, who sink to rest,
By all their country’s wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallow’d mould,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet have ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is rung,
There Honour comes, a pilgrim gray,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell, a weeping hermit, there.
With tears now almost ready to roll down my cheeks, I read:
“We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
~Wilfred Wilson Gibson”
Then Geezer snapped to attention. So, did I. We stood there, with heads bowed, for about a minute. Now, with tears beginning to roll down both our cheeks, in almost perfect unison, we gave Old Glory a long, slow salute, until we finally reached the attention position once again.
Then Geezer Sayz: “Thank you, Sonny Boy,” as we gave each other a hug and pat on the back. Geezer then walked away, headed for his Memorial Day celebration.
As I walked back up the steps onto the porch, opened the front door and went inside, I called to my wife, who was busy in the kitchen, “Honey, I’ve just got this great idea about what we can do today …”
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). Since 1971, it has been celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May to ensure a three-day weekend for Federal holidays. Several Southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
NOTE: Read more at Memorial Day History.
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