Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Weekend Flag Planting

Traditionally, May 30th is Memorial day, although the United States celebrates it on the last Monday in the month of May. And we all generally take a 3 day weekend. There are many stories about how and when Memorial Day was started. It's probably true that most of them have truth, as it's not unreasonable to assume that there were many places where people honored their fallen heroes by decorating their grave sites. But the official start was when General John A. Logan declared that there would be a day of celebration, honoring all the fallen soldiers of the Civil War by decorating the gravestones of all Union AND Confederate soldiers. That day would be May 30th, 1868.
The southern states didn't celebrate that day, even though the northern states honored both confederate and union soldiers. However, after WWI, the day of remembrance was changed to include all soldiers from all wars, and then the southern states started celebrating the same day.
In 1971, Congress passed the National Holiday Act, which established every last Monday in May as the recognized celebration day, in order to facilitate a federal 3 day weekend.
Here's the text of the proclamation that Gen. Logan made:

1. The 30th day 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. In this observance, no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose , among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the solders, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes?Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or 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.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
2. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
3. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of
Adjutant General

Every year, just before the Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts gather at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, just like they do across the nation, and celebrate our fallen heroes by placing an American flag at the foot of each grave stone.
First they have a memorial service, where the colors are displayed by the Marines, some words are said by veterans and the Scout district headmaster. Each troop and pack's colors are shown (see above), and all the veterans buried in the cemetery are given a 21 gun salute. Many of the kids weren't ready for the guns, and visibly jolted when the first round (there were 7 guns) went off. To top it off, a bagpipe was played to the tune of Amazing Grace, and a bugler played taps.
And, yes, it rained on us virtually the entire time.
After that the scouts were dismissed and sent to pre-assigned sections, where there were boxes of flags handed out to teams for placement at the headstones. Each scout was to place the flag at the bottom center of the stone, read the name on the stone, and then solute that soldier. The scout master made the point during the ceremony that 90% of the graves don't get visitors during the weekend, so it was our job to honor each and every one.
It was an honor doing so, and it was amazing to read the lifespans of many of them. I saw markers for veterans of wars from the Spanish-American war in 1898 all the way to the Vietnam war. Many fought in more than one, and at least one stone recorded that soldier's participation in WWI, WWII and the Korean War.
Click on each picture to get a larger image. The cemetery is overwhelmingly picturesque, and set high on Mt. Scott with some outstanding views of Portland. While it's not as large and grand as Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, it is certainly its equal in beauty.
Driving around you'll come across a very nice Korean War memorial set up with the names of Oregon soldiers that died during the conflict. I ran out of shots on the camera, otherwise I would have posted a picture of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking a moment to cover this important event.

Many of the scouts who participated were proud to honor fallen veterans.
I am a scout leader and the boys I lead were very proud of the opportunity to do this.

Thanks again