Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorial Day: Arlington, Poppies, Taps, and the Cost

Memorial Day this year is on Monday, May 27. What do you know about it?

The first Memorial Day, on May 30, 1865,  was called 'Decoration Day,' because it was designated as a day to remember the dead of the Civil War and to decorate their graves. However, did you know that at that time, a number of southern states refused to participate? Some still hold separate days of remembrance: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.

For some interesting facts about the Civil War, visit:

Did you know that the land where Arlington National Cemetery is located, was originally the home of General Robert E. Lee? Lee was married to a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, named Mary Anna Custis-the property was inherited by Mary Anna. The mansion on the property is still sometimes referred to as the Custis-Lee Mansion. The Union seized the property and used it for a headquarters. As the war continued, there was a huge demand for burial space (see the number of casualties below), so they converted the grounds into a cemetery. The first graves were very close to the mansion so that Lee would see them every time he looked out his window, should he ever return.

It has expanded over time to include 624 acres with more than 400,000 people buried there. There are many separate memorials within the cemetery, including one for military nurses, two Space Shuttles, and the National Park Service, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, you must be either a veteran or someone on active duty at the time of death, or the spouse or minor child of a serviceman or woman, or have held elected office, including Chief Justices of the Supreme Court.

Visit the Arlington National Cemetery website for more information and pictures:
How did the custom of wearing the red poppy flowers for Memorial Day come about?
It started with this poem written by a Canadian military doctor  serving in France in World War I in a part of France known as Flanders (Flanders is an area in the north of France close to Belgium)---and by the way, he threw the poem in the garbage because he didn't like it, and it was taken out of the garbage and submitted to a newspaper by one of his soldiers:

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Memorial for WWII soldiers--France
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

A lady named Moina Michael came up with the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who had died during their service to the country in wartime. She sold poppies to her friends and used the money to benefit servicemen in need. Eventually, the VFW began to sell them, developing a program where disabled vets made artificial poppies to sell.

A thoughtful video:
The song was written by Pete Seeger.

24 Notes Everyone Recognizes
What do you know about "Taps," played at the end of every military funeral? It's called "Taps" because years ago in wartime, at the end of the day the bugler sounded some notes and then tapped three times on the drum to signal Lights Out (or Extinguish).

The composition of Taps used at military funerals was written by Daniel Butterfield, a Civil War veteran.
  • It was first used officially in July, 1862.
  • Taps is often played by members of your local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) at funeral services.
  • Taps was played as a quieter alternative to a cannon volley, which had been done at Civil War funerals:  if the service was held too close to enemy troops the noise of a cannon would tip them off.
  • There are words to Taps. Here is one verse:
                Day is done
                 Gone the Sun
                   From the lake, from the hill, from the sky
                     All is well
                       Safely rest
                         God is Nigh.

  • At a military funeral where there has been a gun salute, the casings from the spent shells are collected by the servicemen who did the salute and are presented in a pouch to the spouse or other survivors. The bugler and marksmen silently march away from the site when they are finished.

Number of Americans killed in war:

Revolutionary War                 4,435*
War of 1812                            2,260
Mexican War                         13,283
Civil War                             364,511
Spanish-American War           2,446
World War I                        116,516
World War II                      405,399
Korean War                          36,574
Viet Nam Conflict                 58,209
Gulf War                                    382
Afghanistan                             2,031
Iraq                                         4,487
War on Terror                         6,280

*did you know that the Revolutionary War lasted more than 6.5 years?

Remember someone who has served our country, not just once a year but all year.

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