Thoughts on Memorial Day from an Old Guard Soldier’s wife...
For most of us, Memorial Day means a long weekend filled with cookouts, water activities, and the beginning of summer. But for some, Memorial Day is one of the hardest days of the year. For some, it is the one day of the year intentionally set aside to remember their fallen loved ones.
Old Guard Soldiers place small flags at the foot of every tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery. The process can take the entire unit 5 hours straight. After Memorial Day the flags will be removed again.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. Prior to then, is was also referred to as "Decoration Day" and observed by many states across the country in their own ways. The first Memorial Day can be traced back to three years after the Civil War which was intended to honor the dead who had died in battle. Major General John Logan, the Commander-in- Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868, ordered all his posts to decorate the graves of the fallen with freshly bloomed flowers saying :
“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
Today we honor the tradition of decorating graves on Memorial Day by placing small flags in front of the grave of a fallen veteran.
A Soldier uses his foot to measure proper placement of each flag
This is embarrassing to admit, but for a long time I didn’t fully understand the difference between Veteran’s Day, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. To be honest with you, they weren’t “real” to me until I married a Soldier myself. So I’m going to put the general descriptions for us all right here.
Armed Forces Day- The third Saturday of each May, Honors those serving.
Memorial Day- The last Monday of each May, remembers those who died while serving.
Veteran’s Day- The 11th day of each November- Honors those who served.
*While it is appropriate to wish someone "Happy Armed Forces Day" or "Happy Veteran's Day," it is not appropriate to wish someone "Happy Memorial Day."
As of 2010, we also have the National Moment of Remembrance that encourages all Americans to pause at 3:00PM local time on Memorial Day to offer silence and reflection in honor of all those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy.
I am struggling to put into words the complex gratitude I as a military spouse feel toward our many fallen heroes and especially their families. Of all the awards, medals, achievements, and recognition available to be earned, there is one we all hope never to receive: the folded flag. The folded flag is presented to the family of the fallen hero as a sign of our country’s eternal gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.
For all of the late nights, deployments, extended training time away from home, frequent relocation to new places, and other general small annoyances, none compare to the sacrifice that so many before us have made and continue to make. It is something we all have contemplated: the chance that our spouse may not return to us… the possibility that some of our friends’ spouses may not return home to them… the reality that though they return, they may not be physically or mentally sound… the feeling of guilt (no matter how fleeting) when we are spared but others are not... the intense gratitude that follows.
My husband and I are honored to be stationed at Fort Myer with The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. His primary mission is memorial affairs which includes performing funerals in the cemetery as well as receiving and transferring fallen soldiers from Dover Air Force Base. Old Guard Soldiers train for months to pass the high qualifying standards required to perform these ceremonies
Here, the memory of those who have paid the ultimate price is fresh and unceasing. It is not unusual on any given day to hear “Taps” soaring across the same air that rings with the metal, rhythmic clack of metal on asphalt as the Soldiers’ heavy shoes step in time with the horses that draw the caisson.
Even if you do not personally know someone who died in the line of battle, or a veteran who has since passed on, I would encourage you to take a moment today to remember the millions of men and women who gave it all, as well as your own loved ones who are no longer here with you.
I hope that this somber day does not sadden you, but brings a richness to the rest of your year. You see, forgetfulness breeds discontent and complaining. The antidote, remembering, fosters gratitude and perspective. My wish for you is that you fully bask in the fullness and life of summer with a heart overflowing with gratitude and reflection.We, Yobel Market, have a huge heart for our military community here in Colorado Springs and are constantly reminded of your willingness to sacrifice and serve our country!