“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 . . .”*
I woke up on the morning of Flag Day and several things dawned on me:
- It’s Flag Day – where did I stash my flags?
- Only two months until school resumes
- It has been over a month since my last blog
- That blog was going to be written and submitted before Memorial Day.
A couple of “little” things got in the way though. Two Saturdays, two weeks apart in May, my family celebrated two graduations. First was my oldest daughter’s college graduation on Mother’s Day Weekend. Who could ask for a better Mother’s Day present than to see your firstborn walk the stage as she received her Bachelor’s of Science degree? Second was watching my #3 child graduate from high school.
Even though I am a few weeks behind, I do wish to write about the topic I had in mind, only expanded slightly. Several weeks ago, I realized those raised after the Baby Boomers may not be familiar with Decoration Day and/or the origins of Memorial Day. Since the six weeks from mid-May to Independence Day are packed with multiple flag-waving occasions, let’s take a peek at each one.
Armed Forces Day, celebrated on the third Saturday of May each year, honors the military folks currently serving in any of the five branches of the US Military. If you are fortunate enough to live near a military installation, you may be invited to attend an open house and tour the facilities. Southwestern Oklahoma is blessed with two full-time installations, and several National Guard posts. Raise your hand if you ever had the thrill of touring a C-5A or B, C-17, KC-135 (all air force planes), or maybe even crawling around on or in a tank or two.
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, had its humble beginnings on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line during the War Between the States. Southern and Northern mothers and sisters realized the soldiers who gave all on the battlefield had no family nearby to tend their graves. One by one, they slipped out to the battlefield burial sites to clean and mark each grave. Now celebrated on the last Monday in May, it was originally designated by the federal government to be held each year on May 30. Decoration Day in some areas, particularly the South is still observed on various dates in May. I will share a personal experience of this special day at the end of the blog.
One of the major turning points of World War II happened on June 6, 1944, when the Allied Forces came ashore at Normandy to take back Europe from Hitler’s Army. Over 2,000 Americans gave their lives that day to preserve the freedom not only of the USA, but of much of Europe, too. Though not an official holiday, many still choose to honor this significant day in our history.
Old Glory was first approved as our nation’s flag on June 14, 1777. From its humble beginnings in the sketch drawn by President George Washington to the 50 Stars and Bars that wave proudly from many a flagpole today, take time to reflect on what it represents the next time you see it displayed. Another major historical event is also celebrated on June 14 – the birthday of the U.S. Army. The Army first came together two years before the flag – in 1775. Wonder who had the pleasure of blowing out the 237 candles on the Army’s birthday cake this year?
Last but certainly not least of the flag-waving days of late spring and early summer is of course our nation’s birthday. We recognize the birthday as July 4, 1776, and call it Independence Day, but the question remains: is that the date we truly gained our independence from England? Your homework assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to do the research yourself on this one.
Growing up in the best part of the greatest state of the USA taught me a lot about life and what is important. For many folks, Memorial Day weekend represents the first big 3-day weekend of the summer. In their rush to get out of town and away from work, they forget the real reasons behind this holiday. Papa and Mama would never let us forget, though.
Our typical Memorial Day weekend began Saturday morning with a trip to the Francis Cemetery near Humphreys, in Jackson County. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends would join us for the day as we weeded, cleaned, and mowed the cemetery. For us kids, the cemetery also held adventure, great food, and the occasional learning experience. Adventures included chasing and catching jack rabbits, horned toads and other critters, and checking out the unusual engravings on some of the tombstones.
Around noon, the “tail-gate” party would begin. Of course this was before tail-gaiting was a popular activity prior to sporting events. Most everyone had brought one or more covered dishes for lunch. The men would put together a couple of tables, while the women spread out the food. Papa or one of the other men would say a prayer of thanks. Tailgates were dropped on all available pickups to provide the seating for this covered-dish dinner. Once our tummies were full, the women cleaned up the dinner table, while the men and kids returned to the tasks at hand.
Learning experiences were plentiful in this old country cemetery. Things like:
- Don’t mess with the toppled tombstones. They are heavy, and make great hiding places for snakes and scorpions.
- Cactus plants have long sharp needles, and lots of pesky little needles. Both are painful to remove, especially if you lay down in a patch of them to catch a bunny.
- Some learning was slow in coming.
Inspired by the map my mother started in the late 1980s, and also bit by the genealogy bug, I decided the map needed more than just names and dates. Pictures would help bring it to life for those searching for their roots. After piecing together information for my own family, I realized that four generations of my family are buried there. I also learned that numerous veterans are buried there, including several from the Civil War.
Though we no longer gather on the last Saturday in May to clean and decorate, this cemetery remains well-cared for thanks to a handful of volunteers that secure donations for the Francis Cemetery Association to pay for regular mowing. Ruth Ann Hoover and Tommy Sadler manage the association, while Ricky Crouch keeps the grounds weeded and mowed.
Thank you for joining me in this flag-waving patriotic blog. For more information on the holidays mentioned above – please check out these resources:
See you next time in Southwest Oklahoma!
*Opening lines from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, 1915.