by Larry Palletti
A Time to Remember
Shiloh. Gettysburg. The Wilderness.
The graves were still as
fresh as the memories of the bereaved.
A war that divided a nation
had just stuttered to a close. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, Yankee
and Rebel, lay dead in the bloodiest conflict in our history – then or
As America struggled to put
the pieces back together, the widow of a Confederate soldier walked to
the burial ground that held the bones of her beloved. She stripped the
petals from the flowers she held tightly to her breast … and dropped them,
one by one, on the hallowed grave of her fallen hero.
Within three years, when
most of the dead had been returned to cemeteries nearest their homes, the
practice of visiting their graves had become well-established. In some
places, May 30 was chosen as the date for the sad ceremonies – the anniversary
of the date on which the last Union volunteers were mustered out of the
In 1868, Gen. John A. Logan,
commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, made it official.
May 30 would be the annual date of the Army’s observance of what people
would soon call "Decoration Day."
Little Bighorn. Cheyenne.
The Chiricahuas. Rosebud Creek.
The battles didn’t end with
Appomattox. There was a west to win – and more graves to decorate with
flowers, flags and bunting. As the nation grew, so did the rolls of the
Havana. Peiking. Verdun.
The Marne. "And we won’t come back ‘til it’s over, over there…"
Too many didn’t come back.
The sad cemeteries of fallen American soldiers began to dot the countrysides
of foreign lands as we plunged headlong into the 20th Century. Decoration
Day brought us more graves to visit, more tears to shed – more lessons
to learn. No longer an insular America, we made "their" fights our fights.
The blood of Americans fed
the poppy fields of Europe. And the legions of the dead continued to grow.
Pearl Harbor. Normandy. Remagen.
The Pusan Perimeter. Taegu.
Inchon. Heartbreak Ridge.
Dak To. Pleiku. Ben Tre.
The Mekong Delta.
Grenada. Lebanon. Iraq. Haiti.
The list grows. The mournful
white crosses and the Stars of David multiply. The pantheon of our war
dead fills with names long forgotten … but with spirits that will live
Now it is time for us to
recall them and their bravery. Time to ponder long and hard upon the sacrifices
they made – for us.
Decoration Day. Memorial
Day. Their day to be remembered.
Their legacy is priceless,
if we but take it and hold it to our hearts. It has the power to show us
a better, richer future – one with fewer white crosses. One with fewer
tears of bereaved widows and orphaned children.
If we but remember…
For the cost of forgetting
is too great.