Grab Your Red, White and Blue

Memorial weekend is only a few days away, and if you’re like us here in southern California, we’re still pretty much in lockdown, so our preparation this year for the big weekend is quite a bit different than in the past.  I would imagine the same is true for most of the country.

Before I launch into the 10 ways, a little history is probably worthwhile.  

It’s unclear how this tradition originated, with some communities independently initiated memorial gatherings, while some records indicate one of the earliest Memorial Day commemoration was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.  

“On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month.  The 30th of May, 1868 was then designated for the purpose of strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”  The date of Decoration Day as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.  

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and along with 5000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.  

But it is duly noted, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day.  It was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.  

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War.  But during World War I the United State found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30th, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day.  But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971.  The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Today, or should I say, in previous years, Americans observed Memorial Day by taking the long weekend for trips or throwing parties and barbecues to celebrate the beginning of summer.  But as you know, Americans, especially us Boomers and seniors, also observed Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials, planting flags or wearing a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war.

And now we find ourselves wondering how to best celebrate Memorial Day, and in some small way maintain the tradition and culture of the special weekend.  First of all, there most likely will not be any large gatherings of people for the backyard BBQ, the swimming pools will probably still be closed, people won’t be hitting the road because many hotels and other lodging facilities have not reopened, and most notably of course, the Indy 500 will not be run this weekend as it has in the past virtually every year.

As seniors, we still have to be very careful about our desire to shed the quarantine blues and poke our heads out into society.  The one common thread in the coronavirus pandemic is that as seniors, we are still at the highest risk for contracting the disease due to our underlying health matters.  Nonetheless, here are some surefire ways to help motivate all of us wanting to spread our wings and honor our fallen husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, and in some cases even our grandchildren.

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  • On Monday the 24th, PBS has a special National Memorial Day Concert at 8:00 pm EST, so dial in from the safety of your home.  Actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise will host this special presentation of the illustrious concert, normally held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
  • If you’re into Facebook and Twitter, post a social media tribute to someone near and dear to you, who died in battle while in service to our country.
  • Go to your favorite Dollar Store and pick up several flags and plant them at the gravesite of a fallen hero, or proudly plant them on your front lawn or window box in tribute.  That is precisely what my BoomerGuy and I are doing later this morning—honoring my grandfather (WWI), my husband’s father and uncle (WWII) and in memory the many classmates we knew who died in Vietnam.  Also, get a red poppy or two and wear them for the entire weekend.  You will be amazed how it will make you feel to honor our military.
  • Take your larger flag and set it in its holder and let the summer breeze blow gently through the stars and stripes.  Be sure to follow proper etiquette and guidelines in doing so.
  • Decorate your windows with red, white and blue and let your neighbors know that you know how to celebrate in some small way.
  • Call a relative or friend that you know served and tell them how grateful you are for their dedication and thank them profusely.
  • You can hear veteran’s stories in their own words through StoryCorps and Military Voices Initiative.  These are oral stories from service members, veterans and their families and we honor their voices, amplify their experiences and let them know as a nation we are listening.
  • Donate flowers to a fallen hero.  There are many organizations around the country called Memorial Day Flowers in which they coordinate placing flowers for interned veterans.
  • Don some red, white and blue clothing and wear it around the house, or even if you happen to venture out.
  • Get some fresh air.  One splendid way of celebrating the long weekend is to enjoy Mother Nature and all the wonderful gifts she bestows.  Talk a walk and don’t look down, look up and around and notice all the blooms and blossoms the early summer brings.  Set back on your deck or patio and use your binoculars to watch the birds and other wildlife.  Have a Memorial Day barbecue even if it’s just for you.

And most important, give thanks for the wonderment of life.  Give thanks to our great nation.  Give thanks to all those who have served our country and to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Give thanks to your family and list of friends who still love you and you love them back.  

Times are certainly different as we navigate through COVID-19.  And the ways we carry on are different, but the inherent quality of the American spirit is always the same.  It is strong, it perseveres and it’s with us all the time.  

As your number one BoomerGal, I’m here to wish you a somewhat solemn but wonderful weekend.  Use your imagination to light it up and celebrate it in the best way possible.

Editorial contribution by http://www.history.com/memorial-day-history

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