Before Memorial Day was the “official start of summer” … before Memorial Day was a three-day weekend … even before Memorial Day was a federal holiday … Memorial Day was a time of honor, reflection and respect: a day dedicated to remembering the men and women who died while serving in our armed forces. And it should be, still and always.
In 1866, women in the south began laying flowers on the graves of both the Union and Confederate dead in the Columbus, Mississippi, cemetery …. giving rise to Confederate Memorial Day. Early celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to tend to the graves and honor the dead. In the north, it was called Decoration Day before it became – nation-wide – Memorial Day.
Many years and many wars have passed since those genteel southern ladies made time to honor the fallen on both sides of the Civil War, and the holiday has morphed into a time to eat hotdogs, play at the lake, take a long weekend vacation, maybe see a parade. It’s a celebration of family, fun and a time to greet the summer after a long winter indoors.
But with so many opportunities throughout the state, it won’t take but a minute away from your fun to remember Memorial Day’s original – and enduring – purpose: to remember the sacrifices of those who gave what Abraham Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion.”
Take a few fresh-cut flowers to lay on a grave or two, but be aware National Cemetery rules restrict wreaths to Christmas and artificial flowers to winter.
Missouri Veterans Cemeteries are found in Bloomfield, Higginsville, Jacksonville, Springfield and Fort Leonard Wood. Bloomfield also has a Civil War Cemetery. National Cemeteries are found in Springfield, Jefferson City and at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.
For a more immersive experience, choose to spend Memorial Day at Fort D in Cape Girardeau, where they bring the Civil War to life at the only remaining fort of the four that once guarded the city from Confederate attack.
Nearly every county has a memorial to the men and women lost to war at the county courthouse. Battlefield and veterans’ monuments are scattered across Missouri’s beautiful countryside at places like the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Civil War Monument in Butler and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Kansas City.
I’m not asking you to spend the weekend in study and reflection. We want you to let loose and enjoy summer in the Show-Me State – but consider also taking a moment or two to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day, and the reasons you’re free to celebrate.