Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day 2008 (UPDATED)

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.

Today the Eugene Register Guard has an editorial it borrowed from the Roseburg newspaper on What Memorial Day used to be like.

Memorial Days past
In years past, when the Civil War veteran was a common sight at patriotic festivals, Memorial Day was a real holiday, rivaled only by the Fourth of July. The late Charles Stanton, for many years editor of the Roseburg News-Review, recalled what it was like in the days of the Grand Army of the Republic.

If you’re an old “greybeard” like myself, perhaps you dimly recall how we used to celebrate Memorial Day.

The “Boys of the G.A.R.” (Grand Army of the Republic)spent a week or so erecting a platform and draping it with bunting. The site was the park or picnic grounds. All towns had such a gathering place in those days.

Early in the morning farmers began arriving, carrying their families and well-filled hampers of food in four-seated hacks drawn by teams resplendently groomed for the occasion.

The populace assembled on the board walks of the main street.

Then came the parade!

Behind the grand marshal, mounted on a spirited horse, came the Colors and the Color Guard, followed by the Silver Cornet Band.

The G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) came next, its straggling ranks thinning noticeably from year to year. Next in line were the younger and more stalwart veterans from the Spanish-American War.

Preceding the hose reel companies in the next section was the fire department’s float, with its queen, half prostrate, before the traditional white cross.

The procession wound its way to the cemetery, where, in the early morning hours, a committee of veterans had placed flags at the graves of departed comrades. A solemn ceremony at the grave of the unknown soldier commanded respectful attention, and then spectators dispersed to place their by-now-wilted flowers upon the resting places of their own kin.

Then the race was on for The Grove, where picnic lunches, visiting, horseplay and the surreptitious tilting of bottles filled in the time until the overworked Silver Cornet Band struck up the “Washington Post March” from the platform.

There followed a brief concert, closing with a patriotic medley, after which the town’s mayor, or some dignitary selected for his sonorous voice, delivered Logan’s General Orders. A sixth-grader, with much prompting, stumbled through Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Then came the pièce de résistance: a tear-jerking, flag-waving, eagle-screaming oratorical masterpiece by an imported speaker......

Perhaps the years have dimmed my memory. I was only a child when Memorial Day was a holiday that still called forth widespread observance. Perhaps it was celebrated differently in your town. Maybe I’ve missed some of the events of the day as I first knew it.

But celebrations in late years bear little resemblance to those of long ago. Our modern observance of the holiday reverts to the practices of more primitive and heathen people.........

Where we once gathered in sincere tribute to those who had given their lives in the service of their country, we now leave such things to a very few of the faithful who still cling to the old mores. The rest of us worship the gods of pleasure.