It’s a three-day weekend. It’s the launch of summer. It’s barbecue time.
The cultural significance of Memorial Day has shifted as the years have gone by, but it’s a holiday that is actually about stars and stripes — not sun and sand. It’s a day to honor and extend gratitude to the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Across the country, there are legion services and exhibits to recognize our fallen brothers and sisters.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday originated in the years following the Civil War, and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Civil War General John A. Logan asked for the day of remembrance, saying, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
It’s powerful imagery that rings true nearly 150 years later. For those who have visited the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, it’s hard to forget the sight of white headstones that go for miles. It’s profoundly overwhelming and heartbreaking. Taking a trip to Washington, D.C., and Virginia to see the war memorials and national monuments is something that every American should do in his/her lifetime.
Regardless of your political views or feelings about war, recognizing the sacrifice of our veterans gives them the honor and dignity that they have earned.
Ways to honor those lost
Each year on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time. The annual event asks Americans, wherever they are, to pause for a duration of one minute to remember those who have died in military service to the United States. The Orcas Island Community Band invites all island musicians to participate in Taps Across America 2021 during this time. You can sound the call from wherever you feel appropriate on any musical instrument. If you would like to, you can make a video of your performance and post it online on the “Taps for Veterans” Facebook page. Visit www.tapsacrossamerica.org for more information and sheet music.
Americans also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war — a tradition that began with a World War I poem (https://www.history.com/news/world-war-i-poppy-remembrance-symbol-veterans-day).
The American Legion on Orcas will hold a graveyard service at 11 a.m. on May 31 at the Olga Cemetery. American Legion members on San Juan will place flags at the graves of veterans at noon on Sunday, May 30 and the following day 11 a.m. will have a weapon service salute at both sides of the cemetery followed by a salute at the legion.
San Juan will also be conducting a bell service for the out-of-state members and two Sons of the American Legion who passed during the past year, this will take place at the Legion, following the cemetery service.
On Friday, May 28, Hospice of the Northwest volunteers, staff, patients and their loved ones will create a “Flags In” installation on the front lawn of the agency’s office in Mount Vernon. It will be up through May 31. The installation will consist of 993 American Flags laid out in a grid. Each flag honors a U.S. Military Veteran served by Hospice of the Northwest.
According to HNW, which serves San Juan County, a generation of World War II and Korean War Veterans are facing end-of-life care decisions now, and they are quickly being followed by younger Vietnam War Veterans, many of whom are confronting serious illnesses at an even earlier age. HNW is a part of an innovative program called We Honor Veterans, developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Through “We Honor Veterans,” HNW is ensuring it is equipped to address the unique needs of our nation’s veterans at the end of their lives.
This Memorial Day, please take time to honor the men and women who have died in action.