The flags are flying; the flowers are in bloom. Step away from the grill on Monday – Memorial Day – a holiday which demands some reflection on what it means to be an American and what it has taken to claim that status.
Memorial Day is special. Of course, there are the burgers, barbeque and beer, but the day should be so much more. It is the history, the solemnity, the honor and tribute to our military dead, the flowers, the flags, and Taps echoing among the cemetery headstones.
Bellevue hosts a wonderful Memorial Day ceremony every year sponsored by the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. World War I veterans have vanished. World War II vets are getting fewer each year, so that brings us to veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and now the seemingly-never-ending battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe them all our gratitude.
The observation begins with a 9:30 a.m. veterans’ parade through downtown out to Bellevue Cemetery where ceremonies will be held in the appropriately decorated veterans’ section. There will be speeches, music, the reading of the names of Bellevueans who have died in service to the nation, the placing of honor wreaths, a 21-gun salute and the traditional playing of Taps by Bellevue High School trumpeters.
The celebration reminds us of who we are, from where we have come, and what it takes to protect and preserve this great nation. None of the remainder of the day would be possible except for the sacrifices these men have made throughout our history. I hope you will celebrate the gift of freedom we have all been given.
But, in case you are curious about the history of Memorial Day and the appropriate way to display the U.S. flag, here is some information gleaned from The Old Farmers Almanac:
“The custom of honoring ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves is an ancient and worldwide tradition, but the specific origin of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first known, are unclear.
“In early rural America, this duty was usually performed in late summer and was an occasion for family reunions and picnics. After the Civil War, America’s need for a secular, patriotic ceremony to honor its military dead became prominent, as monuments to fallen soldiers were erected and dedicated, and ceremonies centering on the decoration of soldiers’ graves were held in towns and cities throughout the nation.
“After World War I, the day expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday by an act of Congress; it is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.
“On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution, later amended on Dec. 22, 1942, that encompassed what has come to be known as the U.S. Flag Code. Here are highlights:
• “The flag of the United States is the emblem of our identity as a separate nation… Therefore, citizens should stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered.
• “The custom is to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open.
• “When the flag is hung vertically or horizontally on a wall, window or door the Union (blue) should be to the observer’s left.
• “The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• “It should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement.
• “The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:
- New Year’s Day, Jan. 1
- Inauguration Day, Jan. 20
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
- Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12
- Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
- Easter Sunday (variable)
- Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
- Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
- Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
- Flag Day, June 14
- Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
- Independence Day, July 4
- Labor Day, first Monday in September
- Constitution Day, Sept. 17
- Columbus Day, second Monday in October
- Navy Day, Oct. 27
- Veterans Day, Nov. 11
- Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
- Christmas Day, Dec. 25
And such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States, the birthdays of states (date of admission), and on state holidays.
• “It should be displayed at every public institution and in or near every polling place on election days, and at schoolhouses during school days.
• “The flag should not be displayed on a float except from a staff, nor draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle.
• “No other flag should be placed above the flag of the United States or, if on the same level, to its right.
• “When flags of states, cities, etc., are flown on the same halyard, the United States flag should be at the peak.
• “When displayed from a staff in a church or auditorium, the flag should occupy the position of honor and be placed at the speaker’s right as he faces the audience.
• “When flown at half-staff, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to half-staff position. It should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.
• “The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
• “It should never be displayed with the union down, save as a signal of dire distress.
• “When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
So, before you fire up that grill on Monday, please take time to honor the men and women of the U.S. military, particularly those who died in the line of duty. Visit the cemetery. Thank a vet.
Sally Boyd may be reached at email@example.com.