Following the end of the Civil War, General Logan's Orders proclaimed that on the 30th of May of each year, Decoration Day would be observed, a day when flowers would be strewn upon the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Later, after more war involving the United States of America, the day was renamed Memorial Day. And much later, the date was altered to provide Monday holidays for working America.
The reading of General Logan's Orders is a standard at every Memorial Day ceremony in small town America, and is always accompanied by the reading of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Lincoln underestimated the profound, lasting effect his message would have on Americans for decades to come. His words are usually read by a local student, one who has practiced the phrasing carefully. When I coach my students to recite the Gettysburg Address, I asks them to first understand who the message was addressing ... we, the people ... When Lincoln said that we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, I tell them that he most likely emphasized the pronoun we, rather than the negative verbs ... the meaning is so much more clear when it is read that way... for, as he said, it is, rather, for us, the living, to be dedicated to the task they had so far nobly advanced...that the nation, under God, would have a new birth of freedom. And when he spoke the final lines, that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people would not perish from the earth, I believe he would have emphasized the noun, people, rather than the prepositions, of, by and for.
|Cover of John F. Kennedy|
Another president that we lost too soon has his birthday celebrated the day before Memorial Day, on May 29th. My favorite quote of John Fitzgerald Kennedy exemplifies the optimism, strength, and unity that Lincoln's efforts foreshadowed. At a commencement address shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke these words, and they are words that have meaning and value to me in my classroom, and to my students and colleagues:
"What kind of a peace do we seek? I'm talking about a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. Not merely peace in our time, peace in all time. Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breath the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal." ~JFK
To hear and/or read the full text of this 26 minute commencement address, go to
President Kennedy addresses college graduates with encouragement and optimism.
As you celebrate these two holidays, one a solemn ceremony, and one a nostalgic birthday, remember these two fine American presidents, and strew those flowers liberally, literally and figuratively. Peace is achievable.
Rick and I celebrate our wedding anniversary twice each year, once on the original date of May 30th, and once on the observed calendar date of the holiday. Flowers are an important part of our lives, and sharing them with those who have passed, along with placing flags at the resting places of soldiers, firefighters and others who have made the ultimate sacrifice in providing the protection of other Americans will always be a part of our celebration. We still believe, as President Kennedy believed, that man's problems can be solved by man's efforts and care. It is a belief worth celebrating, and sharing, with those here and those gone on ahead.
This is a photo of Rick and I, on Saturday Morning, May 30th, 1970, leaving the church where we'd spent five years of Sundays providing child care with our CYO friends, Mal, Steve, Tom, Janet, Betty and a few more, during the 10:30 Mass ... and in those last three years gradually realizing we were each other's Anam Cara; for a beautiful explanation of the Celtic words, go to this beautiful site.
Here is the flag flying at our driveway in 2012 where, 42 years later, we are living our happily ever after years.