The Memorial Day I remember the most occurred in Hoosick Falls, NY, the birthplace of my maternal grandmother. I think it was in 1954 or 1955 but I can’t be positive. At any rate, my mom wanted to see where her mom was born (my love for genealogy really may be in my genes). The trip was planned for Memorial Day weekend.
Now, Hoosick Falls is a small town in eastern New York State and consists of only a few blocks of what we old folks would call “downtown.” But, OMG, for its size they had enough banners and flags out to make any veteran or any American proud! And on the day of the Memorial Day Parade everyone and everything and every official and every official vehicle and every horse, tractor, and a few cows participated. To a young girl (as I was back then) it could have been a downtown New York City parade (okay, forget the cows and tractors)!
The roads were jammed with spectators from all over the area, and the parade went on and on and on. Patriotic music filled every corner of the air, people waved those tiny flags, and sang God Bless America, America, and any other patriotic song they knew. People cheered as each car full of veterans drove by and, in a word, it was amazing! This small town’s expression of a nation’s thanks for the service of those who protected our freedom was a microcosm of what was happening in hundreds of small towns that day. I felt proud because my Dad had served in the war and this was a big “Thank You” to him and to all those who contributed to all past wars in some way. I’m sure there is at least one from every town in America.
My Bishop published the following on Memorial Day which helped me understand how that day begun in a way I never did before:
This coming Monday is Memorial Day. It is a day we now observe as the beginning of the summer season. This national holiday has much deeper roots. The first Memorial Day was observed by formerly enslaved black people in Charleston, South Carolina. Immediately following the end of the Civil War these freed slaves exhumed the bodies of fallen Union soldiers from a large, unkempt mass grave outside a Confederate prison camp. They reburied the fallen dead, honored the graveyard with an entry arch, and declared it to be sacred ground. Their work was completed in only ten days. On May 1, 1865, a Charleston newspaper reported that a crowd of nearly ten thousand, including 2800 children, processed to the location for a ceremony including sermons, singing, and prayers.
Let freedom ring. Unfortunately, Memorial Day parades have fallen by the wayside. I Googled “Memorial Day Parade Delaware” and only two parades were listed. Sure, we’re a small state, but I’ll bet we have at least 30 small towns that fifty years ago would have had a parade. One town did report having a “Return of Summer” celebration. Memorial Day is now more about sales and shopping, beaches and barbeques! We aren’t remembering anymore. And yet, we have men and women now serving in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention the thousands of others serving in our military keeping our defenses up and running. Who will remember them? Who will parade and sing and show thanks for their service? Who?