Faith

The Faithful Lives Remembered on Memorial Day

On this American holiday, we also recall the origins of the red poppy tradition — and its most solemn significance

On this Memorial Day, let’s remember the soldiers who have fallen in battle — and recall the faith in God this country’s forefathers instilled upon the United States.

Memorial Day, a national holiday observed on the last Monday of each May, honors the men and women who have died in service to the United States.

The day officially became a federal holiday through an act of Congress in 1971; it had been called Decoration Day prior to that.

Related: On Memorial Day, Let’s Remember Those We Truly Honor

The origins trace back to the days of the Civil War in the 1860s; individuals would decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers.

Traditions on this hallowed day include parades, ceremonies at cemeteries, and family gatherings.

At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, hundreds of thousands of flags are placed every year in front of headstones in preparation for the day.

Red poppy flowers are also placed on crosses near the graves of fallen war heroes. The poppy tradition stemmed from the war poem, “In Flanders Field,” written by John McCrae in May 1915.

The flower, which bloomed in battlefields during the first world war in Belgium and France, has become a symbol of remembrance.

The “Flanders Field” poem reads as follows:

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
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Americans today around the country pay tribute to the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

At ceremonies from coast to coast, people will recite poems like “In Flanders Field,” as well as speeches and prayers.

“Every year about this time, as a pastor I see and hear a lot about whether it is politically and religiously correct to have an American flag in the sanctuary and to sing patriotic hymns as part of our religious services,” Rev. Teresa Martin, pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, wrote recently in an op-ed in The Morning Call newspaper.

“Memorial Day is not about politics or separation of church and state,” Martin also wrote.

“It is about grief. It is about respect and tolerance.”

Faith should not be forgotten or lost as we remember our ancestors and war veterans who’ve passed.

“As a community, we pray for a lot of things, and prayers for national leaders and governments should be included, regardless of the political preferences of any one of us,” Rev. Martin added. “If you truly live out faith teachings, no part of your life should be excluded. That includes the horrors of war, the grief we feel over the cost of war, and the complicated kind of love we feel for our country.”

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