In past years, this weekend was a welcomed sign for the official start of the summer season. In many areas of the country, Memorial Day Weekend, besides being a three-day holiday from work, marked the opening of many beaches, camp sights, mountain summer resorts and a host of other summer related activities. However, this year due to the pandemic, many of these activities and openings are on hold or cut back. For many this has become an unfortunate inconvenience for their summer plans. As inconvenient as it may seem, it has dawned upon me that this particular year you and I have a graced filled moment to reflect on the real significance of Memorial Day.
The actual commemorative celebration of those who have fallen in battle dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans who held annual days of remembrance for loved ones, which included soldiers who had died in battle. This commemoration included placing flowers on the graves of the fallen as well as holding public festivals and feasts in their honor.
Here in the United States, this commemoration was organized at the end of the Civil War by recently freed slaves. Note, as the Civil War was coming to an end, thousands of Union Soldiers who were prisoners of war, were rushed to hastily assembled prison camps in Charleston, South Carolina. One such camp had conditions that were inhumane and was located in a former racetrack near the City’s Citadel. More than 250 prisoners died and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.
Three weeks after the Confederate Army surrendered, there was an unusual procession which entered the former camp. On May 1, 1865, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops, the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, together with a handful of white Charlestonians gathered to consecrate a new and proper burial site for the Union dead. This group sang hymns, had readings and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
In May 1868, General John A. Logan, who was the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans, known as the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. General Logan, had called the day “Decoration Day” since Americans were to lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Americans embraced the notion of “Decoration Day” immediately. However, for more than 50 years, this holiday was used to commemorate those killed just in the Civil War. It wasn’t until America entered into World War I that this tradition of remembering those warriors who died was extended to all the war dead. It was in 1970 that a name change took place from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day.”
It was in the spring of 1915, that bright red flowers began poking through battle ravaged land across the northern France and Flanders. A Canadian Lieutenant Colonel, John McRae, after performing countless operations during the Battle of Ypres, sighted bright red flowers against the dreary backdrop of war, which inspired him to write the following poem titled, “In Flanders Fields”:
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.
Later on, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael read the poem in “Ladies’ Home Journal” and wrote her own poem called, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” which began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to all who died in war, which still remains today.As you can see Memorial Day should mean more than the official start of the summer season. Rather, Memorial Day is that special time for us to remember all of our brothers and sisters, who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I can enjoy our freedoms, and enjoy the life that God has gifted us with this day.
Fr. Peter Weiss, S.S.J.
In Memory of Deceased Members of Delille Family by Janice D Williams
In Memory of Darrien C Delatte Sr. by Greta Thompson
In Memory of Walter & Genevive Thompson by Greta Thompson
In Memory of Royal & Evelyn Stewart by Greta Thompson
In Memory of Tracey & Valla Anne Thompson by Greta Thompson
In Memory of Mr. & Mrs. Herman VanCourt, Sr. by Mr. & Mrs. Herman VanCourt, Jr.
In Memory of Dale VanCourt by Mr. & Mrs. Herman VanCourt, Jr.
In Memory of Glinda VanCourt Morton by Mr. & Mrs. Herman VanCourt, Jr.
Thank you to all who have donated flowers to decorate the altar for the Easter Season.
PRAYER FOR FAMILIES
We bless your name, O Lord,
For sending your own incarnate Son,
To become part of a family,
So that, as he lived its life,
He would experience its worries and its joys.
We ask you Lord,
To protect and watch over this family,
So that in the strength of your grace
It members may enjoy prosperity,
Possess the priceless gift of your peace,
And, as the Church alive in the home,
Bear witness in this world to your glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.