published Monday, May 27th, 2013

Smith: Let's Remember However you celebrate, don't forget why

By Robin Smith

Today, many have plans for cookouts, time on the great bodies of water in our Tennessee River Valley, out of doors with family and friends because of a "holiday."

Memorial Day was first noted as "Decoration Day" designated to cover the graves of those Americans fallen in the line of duty. In symbolism to honor the dead, the act was to honor how the valiant led their lives in sacrifice.

The recognition of a day of memorial began in the shadow of the Civil War. Despite the schism that separated a nation that endured a devastating war within its own bounds, the unifying respect for the ultimate sacrifice of those who died in service was observed officially on May 30, 1868, with some accounts noting earlier local observances.

As the decades have passed to include the weight of numerous wars, those memorializing the dead for their sacrifice have added symbols to their tribute.

As a little girl, I remember the artificial poppies that turned up at the end of May around the Dime Store, exiting the grocery store, and around the courthouse. I didn't appreciate at a young age the significance of these vibrantly red flowers with layered petals encircling the deep black whorl.

The poppy flower was adopted as a symbol of remembrance after a poem written by Canadian surgeon and Lt. Colonel John McCrae during World War I, "In Flanders Fields." McCrae presided over the burial of a friend and fellow serviceman who fell in battle in the Flanders region of Belgium; he paints a picture with his words:

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.

As the observance of Memorial Day to honor those who have died defending liberty and freedom has waned, attempts to increase awareness have been most recently encouraged.

A Congressional resolution, the National Moment of Remembrance, was passed in December 2000. The resolution simply asks all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps'" at 3 p.m. local time.

The more formal ceremonies of the holiday will include a Flag of the United States of America "raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to half-staff position, where it remains until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day."

The half-staff position "remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country," according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. "At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all."

Gleaning from McCrae's poem, please personally answer these questions: Are we holding America's torch high? Are we dishonoring the ultimate sacrifice through our current citizenship?

Our nation is great because of the courage of her people. Let's remember.

Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner in the Smith, Waterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.

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