More than 1,280,000 Americans have died in war since the American Revolutionary War. Memorial Day is a time to remember not only these soldiers, sailors, pilots, and marines, but also ALL American military personnel who have died while in service of their country.
Let’s start by clearly defining what Memorial Day is. I’ve heard many versions of what it is… I’ve even heard it confused with Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day is an American holiday used to remember the men and women who died while serving, while Veteran’s Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead. Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday during the month of May. Originating after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers (both sides!) who died during the Civil War, it was originally called Decoration Day. Traditionally folks put flowers and other decorations on soldiers’ graves. This was the start of Decoration Day.
Over time, the name changed from Decoration to Memorial. Then in 1967 it was officially changed to Memorial Day and also extended to recognize and honor all military men and women who died while serving (instead of just the Civil War). The holiday was celebrated on May 30th, but in 1968 Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act,” and Memorial Day was one of the holidays moved from its traditional date to a specified Monday. This was done to make convenient three-day weekends.
Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. That said, the absolute definition seems to include anyone who dies during military service.
Because Memorial Day is the beginning of Summer, and most of the flag related holidays come after it, my family replaces our flag on the night before Memorial Day. Each year, we pull down and properly retire/dispose of our old flag and replace it with a brand new one. This way we will have a pretty flag for Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, and Veteran’s Day…
Proper care of a U.S. flag is of utmost importance. For those of you who fly a flag, maybe you already know this part… Some of you may not be aware that there is actually a formal way to properly retire and dispose of an old and worn flag. I will discuss what the Ripley family does for this procedure. There are several options, including bringing your old flag to a local Boy Scout Troop, American Legion, or VFW office. However, we choose to burn the flag in our back yard. Any of these ways are valid. The one thing you MUST NEVER do is simply throw an old flag in the garbage!
We start by buying a high quality flag which will last for a year before it really starts to show signs of being worn and ready for disposal. On the evening before Memorial Day we dispose of last year’s flag. I picked this date, because it’s a great time to explain the importance of the flag to the children, and we can do so while going through our family ceremony.
Here’s our personal retirement ceremony in a nutshell:
1. While the flag is still hanging, call the group to attention, salute, place your hand over your heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.
The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States (originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892)
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
2. The leader says, “This flag has served its nation and our family well. It is worn to a condition which is not fit to be used to represent the United States of America. We are grateful for its symbolizing our great nation and we pay honor to this flag for the service it has rendered. We will now fold and dispose of this flag.”
3. Take the flag down and then properly fold it.
4. Move to the prepared fire and everyone salutes the flag one last time. The group holds their salute until the leader places it on the fire and then they all finish the salute with the leader’s final salute. The group remains standing reverently until the flag is completely consumed.
The last thought is… Remember that today is a special day and we should honor our fallen brothers and sisters. Spend at least a minute today to reflect quietly and feel sincere gratitude for all that our military has done in our name. Thank you for reading this, and thank you for listening to this patriot rant. I love you all.
-Vaughn “the patriot” Ripley
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