It’s a time for remembering.
Yes, that’s what Memorial Day is all about with regards to reflecting on and giving thanks for all the men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate sacrifice that we might be free.
Although the first official declaration setting aside a time to honor the war-dead didn’t occur until May 5, 1868, some sources show that the first laying of flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers occurred in Warrenton, Va., on June 3, 1861. And, another authentic document describes how some women in Savannah, Ga., laid flowers on some decorated Confederate soldiers’ graves in 1862.
Regardless, following General John A. Logan’s declaration in 1868, the practice of setting aside a day to remember fallen soldiers and place flowers on their graves became an annual event. Originally known as Decoration Day, the name was gradually changed to Memorial Day, which was officially adopted by Congress in 1967. And, on June 28, 1968, the day’s observance was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May to allow for a three-day weekend.
As an Air Force chaplain, the day is especially moving for me. Even now, after 20-plus years in uniform, my heart is still moved by the sight of gleaming white tombstones, adorned by tiny flags, standing in perfect rank-and-file. Likewise, tears still fill my eyes when I hear the playing of taps and hear the retort of the 21-gun salute at the graveside service of a fallen comrade.
The original date (May 30) also took on new meaning for me on Jan. 8, 2012, when my wife of 38-plus years died suddenly of a massive heart attack. That was the date of her birthday and my mind naturally goes back to our many years together and her sudden, unexpected departure that Sunday morning while I was gone to worship.
A little over a week ago, I returned to her grave in central Arkansas to lay some flowers on her grave in remembrance of Mother’s Day and her birthday this week. Even though it’s almost been one-and-a-half years now since her Home-going, tears still filled my eyes as I read the inscriptions on the headstone and looked at the ceramic picture at its top.
As I wrote in my “Grief Reflections” for three months after her departure, you never get over grief; you simply work through it. And, work through it we must; otherwise, we get mired down in our misery and sense of loss, which taints everything we do and think and robs us of the simple joys of life.
When I’ve presided over a fallen soldier’s funeral … seen his flag-draped coffin … and presented that flag to a surviving family member, my heart is torn between grief and gratitude: Grief over the lost life. And, gratitude for such service and sacrifice rendered.
The same was true as I stood there recently at Margaret’s grave. Great grief flooded my soul because I miss her; yet, great gratitude also mingled with my tears because of God’s having blessed my life with her for 38-plus years.
In some ways, we’re all warriors in one way or the other — regardless of whether we’ve ever served in the military or not. In reality, life’s a battle. An uphill battle and so often against the tide, it seems. But, it’s always a battle between right and wrong … justice and injustice … good and evil, etc. And, woe to us if we refuse to enter the fight or are negligent at our post of duty.
As a military chaplain and soldier of the Cross, I’ve dedicated my life to making a difference during my time here on earth. Quite often this has required standing on right and suffering the consequences from those whose consciences are defiled. So be it; I wouldn’t change a thing.
And, maybe, just maybe, when my flag-draped coffin is brought to the cemetery one of these days, perhaps there will be one or two who’ll say, “You know, God used him to make a difference in my life.” If so, praise the Lord; if not, I’ll let God, the Righteous Judge, do my Final Evaluation and trust He’ll say to me, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. Enter now into the Joy of your Lord.” Amen and amen.
To contact Bro. Tom or receive his daily e-mail devotional, entitled “Morning Manna,” write him at P.O. Box 10614, Fort Smith, AR 72917 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.