Reflections on Memorial Day

Memorial-Day-Saturday-039

I come from a long line of military – my father, brother, both grandfathers, and several uncles. My dad served in the United States Navy for 30 years. When she was 7 years old, my mom lost her father when he was killed in World War II. Like other families, we welcomed Memorial Day as the unofficial kick off to Summer with barbecues and family get togethers but there was always time set aside to honor those who gave their lives in service of our country.

Writing a RPM lesson seemed to be the perfect way to commemorate Memorial Day. As always, with each new lesson I learn so much myself! I did not know much about the origins of Memorial Day nor had I ever heard the beautiful poem, Decoration Day, by Longfellow. Here are Huan’s responses to this lesson along with his touching creative writing honoring our brave men and women in military service.

MEMORIAL DAY

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May each year. This is a holiday of remembrance; set aside to honor the men and women who have died in while in serving our United States Armed Forces. The U.S Armed Forces are military professionals serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Do not confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day! Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans; not simply those who died while in service.

  • What are we going to talk about today? MEMORIAL DAY
  • Who do we remember on Memorial Day? VETERANS WHO DIED IN SERVICE 
  • Name two types of U.S. Armed Forces. NAVY AND COAST GUARD
  • What holiday do some confuse with Memorial Day? VETERANS DAY
  • What is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?  VETERANS DAY HONORS ALL MILITARY NOT JUST THOSE WHO DIED IN WAR. 

Memorial Day used to be known as Decoration Day. Decoration Day originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. It has been suggested that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was on June 3, 1861 in Warrenton, Virginia. For this reason, Warrenton, Virginia is thought to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. The first widely publicized Memorial Day event was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. It is said that “African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. David Blight, an American professor from Yale University, wrote that while there was no evidence that Charleston inspired establishment of Memorial day; they were the first to recognize human sacrifices of war in an organized event. “What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet and their songs what the war had been about.”

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May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.

  • What was Memorial Day formerly known as? DECORATION DAY
  • Where was the first Civil War soldier’s grave decorated? WARRENTON, VIRGINIA 
  • Where was the first Memorial Day event held? CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
  • How did African Americans in Charleston recognize Memorial Day in Charleston? LAID FLOWERS ON GRAVES

On Memorial Day weekend many people visit memorials, walk in parades and gather for meals with family and friends. Flowers and hand-written notes are left at gravesides. The federal government first established national military cemeteries in 1865 for military deceased. Many civic organizations volunteer to place flags at each grave in national military cemeteries on Memorial Day. Across the country, the flag of the United States is used in remembrance of fallen soldiers as well. It is raised, and then solemnly lowered to half-staff in honor of more than one million fallen men and women in uniform. It remains at half-staff until noon, then raised to back to the top of the staff.

  • Name one activity that people participate in on Memorial Day. USUALLY HAVE PARADES
  • What volunteer activity do civic organizations do on Memorial Day? PLACE FLAGS ON GRAVES
  • Do you know what happens in Washington DC every Memorial Day weekend? ROLLING THUNDER (*this is a HUGE motorcycle rally held each year in Washington, DC on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.)
  • Why do we raise, then lower the U.S. flag to half-staff? TO SHOW RESPECT FOR DEAD SOLDIERS 

Memorial and Decoration Day have been recognized in song, paint and word as well. In 1857, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow helped to found The Atlantic magazine. Longfellow, known as our “country’s foremost Fireside Poet,” published this poetic observation of Decoration Day in The Atlantic just weeks after his death in 1862:

Decoration Day

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

  • Who wrote this poem? LONGFELLOW 
  • What affectionate title had the literary world provided to Longfellow? FIRESIDE POET

CREATIVE WRITING: Reflect on this Memorial Day lesson and the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. To whom is Longfellow speaking in the poem? Who is the intended audience of the poem? What response do you think Longfellow sought to inspire when he penned Decoration Day?

THIS POEM IS WRITTEN FOR SOLDIERS WHO HAVE DIED FIGHTING FOR THIS COUNTRY.  THE AUDIENCE IS THOSE WHO GRIEVE FOR THE FALLEN SOLDIERS. WE SHOULD NOT FORGET ALL THOSE HAVE SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES FOR COUNTRY AND FREEDOM. THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO SERVE OUR COUNTRY ARE SO BRAVE. THE MILITARY IS NOT APPRECIATED ENOUGH FOR THEIR WORK TO KEEP THIS COUNTY SAFE AND FREE.  I WANT TO EXPRESS MY GRATITUDE FOR ALL MILITARY AND THEIR EFFORTS FOR THIS COUNTY. UNITED STATES IS MY HOME AND I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN! 

Huan reflects on Memorial Day!

Huan reflects on Memorial Day!

I was so moved by Huan’s words that I was tearing up a bit while writing down his words as he spelled them on the letter board. I am so very grateful to RPM for giving Huan a means to express his homage to our military. Wishing you a lovely weekend with your family. I hope you take a few moments to remember all those who have served your military.  ~Elizabeth

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