Memorial Day thoughts

Last night, my son graduated from Capital High School.  That’s why my in-laws are in town.  Two came to Boise from Warrenton, Virginia, and two from Fairfax, Virginia.  Both towns are just minutes from Washington, DC.

I recommend that every American visit Washington, DC if it’s within your means to do so.  See the Capitol, the memorials, the Pentagon, the Smithsonian and the rest, and take time to go to Arlington National Cemetery.  I like to go places that seem to give me energy out of nowhere.  Arlington is one of those places.

At Arlington you’ll visit the graves of thousands of servicemen.  You’ll probably see the grave of John F. Kennedy.  There’s a memorial to the crew of the Challenger.  And you may see a ceremony or two.  When I was there, I stood and watched as a foreign dignitary laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  I think he was the commander of the Romanian Air Force.  It was both solemn and a source of energy at the same time.

I’ve been to the sites of Civil War and Revolutionary War battles in Virginia.  I’ve been to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, and I’ve walked the halls of the U.S. Senate Building.

I’ve also been all over the town of Warrenton, Virginia.  There are lots of eastern U.S. towns where it’s fun to walk around and see the sights.  Warrenton is one of those.  Some of the buildings there have been standing since the 17th century.  I mention Warrenton in particular today, because it’s Memorial Day weekend.

No one knows for certain the exact origin of Memorial Day.  The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom.  In the United States, individual cemeteries held their own grave decoration celebrations on various dates, usually during spring, as far back as the early 1800’s.  The practice spread and took on a greater significance following the Civil War, during which 600,000 soldiers died in just four years.

Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day.  Nobody referred to it as Memorial Day until 1882, and it didn’t become the preferred name until after World War II.  For many years it was always May 30th, until Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday act in the late 1960’s to give a lot of us three-day weekends.

But back to Warrenton, at least one source, the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, cites Warrenton, Virginia as the first place ever where a Civil War grave was decorated with flowers.  It happened June 3rd, 1961, in the first weeks of the Civil War.  I’ve been to that cemetery, too.

In a recent Internet posting, someone suggested ways to commemorate Memorial Day.  Visiting Washington was one.  Another was decorating graves.  Others involved visiting and doing favors for veterans, and attending a ceremony at a veterans’ cemetery.  The final suggestion was to have a barbecue.  Taking advantage of a Memorial Weekend sale was not on the list.  But since this is America, do what you want.  A lot of people fought so you could.