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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours. 

~ Henry Wadsworth LongfellowDecoration Day

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.**

- Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen 

Until 1967 known as "Decoration Day" and formerly celebrated on 30 May before "long-weekend" national holidays were introduced the next year, various Memorial Days were first observed after the Civil War in both the North and South, when the graves of the fallen were decorated with flowers and bunting. The first widespread use of the 30 May date took place in 1868 as an observance organized by the Union Army veterans' organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, and this custom gradually spread to the rest of the country and was later expanded to honor the dead of all the nation's wars. 

In a speech just six months before his own death, General George S. Patton, Jr. (1885-1945) noted,
"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived." )
* N.B. Longfellow's "Decoration Day" is from his collection, In the Harbor (1882). 

** The fourth verse of (Robert) Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen" (1914) - generally followed by the phrase, "Lest we forget" - is now part of virtually every war memorial service in Britain and her former colonies. 

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,
mors et fugacem persequitur virum.
nec parcit imbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.

~ Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Carmina, III, ii, 13
(To die for the fatherland is a sweet and admirable thing.*
Death is at the heels even of the runaway, nor spares
the haunches and back of the coward and malingerer.)
A brief history of Memorial Day:

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