Monday, May 31, 2010

The Origin of Memorial Day: Moina Belle Michael

Memorial Day, Decorations Day, Civil War Veteran's Day. The day has several names and histories. While a number of origins to Memorial Day have been forwarded, arguably the modern national holiday began in 1915. While Northerners observed a Memorial Day beginning in 1868 with flowers being placed on Union and Confederate troops in Arlington National Cemetery, southern states observed separate memorial days for more than 50 years. It took another "Great War," a poem, and an inspired teacher to bring North and South together in honoring their dead.
Moina Michael, a 49 year-old teacher from Georgia, inspired by the tremendous sacrifice of American soldiers during World War I and the poem, In Flanders Field by John Mcrae, began distributing poppies on Veterans Day.
In 1922, Michael enlisted the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the idea took off in both the North and the South. Michael's inspiration, and her response, symbolizes not only the sacrifice of veterans who have gone before, but the need to be willing to make the same sacrifice in each generation to secure liberty:

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.

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,  
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw  
And holding high, 
we keep the Faith With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red  
That grows on fields where valor led;  
It seems to signal to the skies  
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red  
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red  
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;  
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought  
In Flanders Fields.

Remember, and Teach this Memorial Day.

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