Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a national holiday to honor the memory of fallen soldiers.
There is no clear record when or where this holiday began. Over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to the birth place of Memorial Day. There is evidence that women’s groups in the South began decorating the graves of Confederate Soldiers before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan and first observed May 30, 1868. For many years it was known as “Decoration Day.” In 1971 Congress changed the official celebration to the last Monday in May. It has become a time not only to honor those killed in war, but to remember all of our loved ones who have died.
On this Memorial Day, as we’re unable to be in Florida with our family, many memories flood my mind in the early morning darkness.
I remember as a boy going to the cemetery in the little community of Mace, Indiana, on Memorial Day. There my Grandfather, Fred Weliever, that I faintly remember, and Uncle Floyd, I never knew, were buried. My Grandmother, like many of the older generation, always called it “Decoration Day.” I recall seeing her gently putting flowers on the grave. Moments of silence. A memory shared. A tear wiped away.
When I was 11 years old my Granny Key (my Mom’s Mother) passed away. In subsequent years I recall the emotion of going to the Threlkel cemetery in Butler county, Kentucky, where they celebrated “Decoration Day” on the 4th Sunday in May. It was really my first meaningful Memorial Day visit to the grave site of someone I had known and loved. My family impressed on me the importance of paying our respects to those who had passed on, and keeping their memory alive.
I remember my brother, Bill, whose life was cut short at age 23 in a tragic automobile accident. Time and faith have healed the wounds of his passing. But his memory lives on. Childhood pranks on a younger brother. Working together on the farm. Sharing secrets. Worshiping together. Seeing him become a man. And a faithful servant of God. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been.
It’s been 26 years since my Dad died. And 11 since my Mom passed away. Yesterday, our daughter Rachél put flowers on their graves and shared with us an emotional video. As I reflect on the good memories and the spiritual legacy left by my parents, I feel so blessed to have grown up in a Christian home. I can still hear the serious and fervent way in which my Dad prayed. I’m thankful for the gentle encouragement my Mom gave me in those early days of preaching. It’s not about money or material possessions. But relationships. Shared times. Surprises. Love. Laugher. And godly values.
As we approach the anniversary of D-Day, we remember the original intent of Memorial Day. We’re reminded of the sacrifices of those who’ve served in our military and have preserved the freedoms we enjoy today. Young men with courage, conviction and commitment whose lives ended on foreign beaches. Normandy. Juno. And Omaha. It is right to accord honor to those who deserve honor (Rom. 13:7).
Memorial day also reminds me of my own mortality. Now into my 72st year, I know that my days are truly numbered. Death is an appointment we must all keep. So, what kind of legacy will I leave? What memories will be shared? What heritage will be passed on to my children’s children?
When it comes to the time of our departure, may it be said like Paul, we have “fought a good fight, we have finished the race, we have kept the faith.” In doing so, we can leave a rich spiritual heritage with good memories that are a blessing to those who remember us.
Memorial day reminds me of the words my Mom often repeated as she approached the final days of her life, “We’re not put on this earth to live forever.”
It’s good to remember. And be reminded that “the memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Prov. 10:7).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman