What does Memorial Day mean for you, other than a day off, and the first day of summer?
You probably know that Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday that commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Celebrated every year on the final Monday of May, the holiday originated after the American Civil War as a way to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had grown to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
But what does it really mean? For my ex-husband and I, it involved spending a lot of time in the cemetery of his town of Meeker, Colo., cleaning the lime off the gravestones, and gathering with other survivors of lost ones, reminiscing over our losses and catching up with the news.
Everyone in Meeker got to the florist early to order the best available flowers, which meant that us out-of-towners usually had to make do with whatever was left. Sometimes that meant removing lavender blossoms from wherever in town we could find them.
That’s what Memorial Day meant: a really important day to remember those who had passed, both military personnel and regular family members.
In the U.S., the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry spend the Thursday prior to the holiday placing small American flags at the graves of more than a quarter of a million gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery. They spend the rest of the weekend patrolling the grounds to make sure each and every flag remains upright and flying.
What do other countries do to honor their war dead?
* In Australia and New Zealand, April 25 is the date to pay tribute to the military. The day is known as Anzac Day, for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War. The holiday was officially declared in 1920 and ever since, people have honored veterans with memorial services and marches. Also on Anzac Day, a dawn service is held in front of a plaque in South Korea. That’s because thousands of Australians fought and died in the Korean War of 1950 – 1953; the Wall of Remembrance at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul carries their names.
* The Canadian holiday of Vimy Ridge Day has only been around since 2003. On April 9, Canadians remember their lost soldiers from this First World War victory. This was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had ever fought together, and although they were successful in taking the ridge, located in the north of France, from the German troops, it was a victory at a terrible cost, with more than 10,000 killed and wounded. Canadians honor the soldiers who gave their lives in this battle by lowering flags to half mast, holding ceremonies and leaving wreaths on graves and monuments.
* The Dutch remember the members of the armed forces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on May 4 every year in a celebration known as Dodenherdenking. Until 1961, Dodenherdenking was only intended to honor victims of the Second World War but now includes all wars. The royal family attends a ceremony at the national monument on Dam Square in Amsterdam and at 8pm, the country observes two minutes of silence to honor those who died in wars or peacekeeping missions. Public transportation doesn’t run and television and radio stations don’t broadcast anything.
* In India, Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) is commemorated on December 16, marking the victory of the Indian Armed Forces and the Mukti Bahini over Pakistan in 1971. (Mukti Bahini refers to all Bengali resistance forces that fought against the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.) The end of the war also resulted in the surrender of the Pakistan Army and subsequent secession of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. It was on December 16, 1971 that 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the allied forces. The anniversary of Vijay Divas is observed across India by paying tributes to the fighters who laid down their lives for the nation.
Numerous countries worldwide also observe Remembrance Day on November 11. This is the date, in 1918, that marked the end of fighting in the First World War. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” in accordance with the Armistice, signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning.
This Memorial Day, how will you pay tribute to those who have died in wars?
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