Monday, May 25, 2009


Memorial Day was first celebrated over 140 years ago when following the Civil War, freed slaves decided to exhume Union soldiers’ bodies from a makeshift mass grave at the site of a former Confederate prison camp. They then reverently re-buried each soldier individually and put a fence around the graveyard, declaring it a Union military cemetery. Each year thereafter, flowers were put on the graves in memory of the sacrifice these soldiers had made in liberating the slaves. After World War II, the holiday was expanded to include honoring all American military casualties.

I’m not quite sure when Memorial Day became something a little different—a date that marks the beginning of the tourist season in Minnesota lake country, a day off from work, a day to cook hotdogs or brats on the grill, the weekend of the Indy 500. It became a day to pull the weeds around Great Aunt Matilda’s headstone, regardless of the fact that she was not a military casualty but merely a victim of old age.

So today, I’m putting out my flag and taking a minute to remember all those soldiers who died in the service of their country. As usual, we’ll go downtown at 10:15 a.m. and take in the Memorial Day parade. The most touching part for me is when the veterans march past in their uniforms (or at least their hats if the uniforms themselves don’t fit). There aren’t any World War II veterans marching any more. The few who are left ride in the backs of convertibles donated by the local Ford dealer. And even the Vietnam vets from my era are looking a little long in the tooth. Last year, a few Iraq war veterans joined in the parade. But there’s something about watching them all march down the street, keeping step with the high school marching band, that still makes me a little teary-eyed and proud.

Time to go put out my flag.

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