Memorial Day marks the beginning of our summer season. It was established in 1868 to commemorate the dead from the Civil War. Originally known as Decoration Day, as my grandmother called it, over the years it has become a day to remember all U.S. men and women killed or missing in action in all wars.
We owe our freedom to them. Without their sacrifices we would not be free to ask questions, to challenge our political leaders, and to take an active role in our system of government.
Again, I rifled through my grandfather’s letters from World War I to set the scene as a tribute in memory of those who put themselves on the line for us. To Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Parry, 137 S. Main St., Uhrichsville, Ohio, nearly 90 years ago, R. V. Parry wrote:
Camp Sherman, OH
May 19, 1918
Your letter came today. I had been watching the mail every day for word about your arrival home. I’m sorry you were held up so on your trip. Papa, you would be very tired for your Monday’s work.
More of us will be weeded out as the weeks pass. We are examined every few days; as you see, very close tab is kept on us. If I am sent across, you will have reason to be proud of the stuff we are made of, for no weakling can get across with the infantry.
I wish this thing were all over just as much as you, for I certainly have no feeling of pleasure in anticipating a trip across. But as you say we cannot consider ourselves now. I can only do the best I know and trust in Providence to carry me through. I feel the seriousness of the thing more than ever now I have begun to work with instruments of warfare. I cannot describe to you the feeling of repugnance which I feel when I think of so much effort being made to teach man how to kill his fellows.
I was blue all evening after my bayonet was issued to me. The thing almost made me shiver [as did the] rifle practice to train us to shoot human targets. But I know the end justifies the means, and I’m doing all I can to master everything they give me. … They say all is changed once one gets to the front and sees the actualities there.
We are getting our dog tags – identification tags – stamped with our numbers. Our company is almost up to war strength so there would be no need to wait for more rookies. I’ll try to find time to write if we go to the range, a few words anyway; think I’ll get a few post cards. If you get no word at all, that will be word in itself.
It’s getting late and almost time for the library to close. Besides, I’m getting sleepy, strenuous exercise makes one like his hay.
Goodnight and love to all.
We must remember to share with our children and grandchildren the real purpose of Memorial Day. While it is traditional and fun to go on picnics and camping, our children should still be taught the true reason we recognize the holiday.
Nothing could achieve this better than sharing a meal together while, at the same time, sharing memories of family members who have gone before.