There are many stories by which over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to be the first to officially sanction a holiday dedicated to the remembrance of soldiers lost in battle by having women’s organizations decorate the graves of confederate soldiers lost in the Civil War dating to as early as 1867. In May 1966, when Memorial Day was made a federal holiday, President Johnson gave credit to Waterloo, NY as officially having started the observance of this holiday.
Traditionally, Memorial Day observances involve lowering the flag to half-mast until noon to remember the men and women who have given their lives in service to the country. At noon, the flag is raised to full mast to symbolize the resolve to not let the scarifies of those who came before us to be in vain and for those currently alive to continue the fight for liberty. Parades are held across the country featuring the veterans in the community, as well as active duty military personnel. Visiting the graves of fallen soldiers is common place as well.
In 1915, John McCrea wrote “In Flanders Fields” to immortalize his fallen compatriots in the attack that took place in Belgium on April 22, 1915:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The red poppy has since been adopted as the flower associated with remembering fallen soldiers and consequently associated with the official holiday in 1966. The red symbolizes the spilled blood of lost soldiers. As the flowers return annually, we are called to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who spilled there blood on the fields of battle and strengthen our resolve to continue the cause of freedom.