Memorial Day started as "Decoration Day" and was first recognized in May of 1868 as graves of fallen soldiers were decorated with flowers. Sadly, "Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country." (usmemorialday.org)
To make sure I did my part this holiday, I responded to a radio plug to help volunteer and decorate the Veteran graves at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, IL. Once I arrived on site, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the mass numbers of uniformly placed white headstones. I found out later, close to 27,000 fallen heroes (and wives) are laid to rest here. In comparison, just over three hundred volunteers showed up to honor those men and women today by placing a flag on their graves.
After a brief instruction ceremony on the "hows and wheres" to place the flag, we began to circle the cemetery with flags in hand. It took the group of us, made up of Veterans, widows, children, families, firefighters and me, about an hour to place all the flags. I was reminded of the realness of loss as I read the tombstones marked, "Beloved Father", "Loving Son", "Forever Loved", "Always Missed" and those of the husband and wife markers that stated, "Together Forever". The longer I walked the more I kept repeating the words, "Thank you" to those who have fallen, and to those who surrounded me. Please be sure that you too, say thank you this weekend to those who have paid the ultimate price for your freedom, our Veterans. Also, please consider volunteering in a program like this in the future, as I found it to be quite a profound and humbling experience.