MEMORIAL DAY

by David Sisler

Question: what does a furniture sale have to do with Memorial Day? Answer: abso-blooming-lutely nothing! Nothing but one more holiday and it used to be pronounced holy day converted into one more excuse for merchandising.

Christmas was co-opted a long time ago. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I would be embarrassed if something so wonderful as the Savior's birth did not attract the attention of the merchant community. But we do exchange gifts, a reflection of the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Jesus by the Magi. Right?

Easter, today, is largely a time for rabbits, colored eggs and new clothes. Again, if the world did not notice the anniversary of our Savior's resurrection and try to profit by it, I would be embarrassed. But some of the commercial ritual does have a "new life" statement about it. Right?

Advertisers, you can have Easter and Christmas because the message still gets through the commercials. Even a casual observer knows that a Savior named Jesus was born, and born again, on those days. And his word is spread today by his living followers. But Memorial Day? How many even know its origin and its meaning?

Originally known as Decoration Day, the practice of honoring the deaths of soldiers began in October, 1864. Emma Hunter went to the cemetery in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania to lay flowers on the grave of her father, Dr. Ruben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union Army. On that same day Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer went to decorate the grave of her son, Amos, a private who had fallen on the last day of the battle of Gettysburg. The two women struck up a conversation and before leaving the cemetery, each laid flowers on the grave of the other's loved one.

The two women agreed to meet again the next year and grace all of the graves of soldiers killed in battle. Their private ceremony turned into a community memorial on July 4, 1865. Every grave in the Boalsburg cemetery was decorated with flowers and flags.

In the South, the town of Columbus, Mississippi, claims origination of a formal observance for both the Union and the Confederate dead in 1866. On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, then commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued an order, naming May 30, 1868, as a day "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country." He signed the order "with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year."

Ceremonies at first were held to honor only those who had died in the Civil War, but later the program was broadened to include all heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice in all of American's wars.

While writing about a forgotten holiday and forgotten meaning, it is important to recognize the accomplishments of one small, "obscure" group to the freedom we enjoy today. In a Memorial Day address last year, Delaware Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., commemorated "one distinguished group of patriots who gave so unselfishly at a time when their rights of citizenship were restricted -- the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II."

In 1942, 29 Navajos using their unique language developed a virtually unbreakable verbal code. The next year 300 Navajo Code Talkers were disbursed in the Pacific Theater, serving with three combat divisions of Marines. By the end of the war some 400 Navajos were participating in the island hopping battles through Bouganville, Tarawa, the Marshall Islands, Saipan, and Guam. That Iwo Jima was retaken is due in part to their flawless translation of more than 800 messages during the first two days of that battle.

Mr. Bidden said, "Each Navajo Code Talker made an invaluable personal contribution to the success of our nation's effort in World War II to preserve freedom and democracy. What is most astonishing about this is that they were willing to take on the responsibilities of democracy at a time when they were not allowed to enjoy the full blessings and rights of democracy here at home."

The Americans who have died, guaranteeing our freedom, are not honored by the "beginning of summer" sales. If you stumbled onto this column today for the first time, I need to tell you that I am a retailer, the assistant manager of a jewelry store, but a new couch, a new stove, new clothes, a new car, or a new necklace just does not do it. Pick another way to ennoble the brave men, and women, who have fought for the United States of America.

-30-

Published in The Augusta Chronicle 5/27/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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