Celebrate Summer and Honor the Heroes

Memorial Day, Monday, marks the unofficial start of summer.

Schools are closed; the swimming pools are open; little league teams play. People will polish their golf clubs, dust off their fishing rods and find their tennis rackets.

The parks are full of parents entertaining their children with swings, slides and picnics. Farmers watch the weather forecast every day as hay waits to be cut. Farmers who have planted corn or soybeans can almost see the crops growing. Coincidentally, stores around the world are offering wonderful deals for their Memorial Day sales.

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Amid the activities, the original meaning of Memorial Day is sometimes overlooked.

The original title, Decoration Day, was used before and after the Civil War.

In fact, decorating the graves of soldiers is an ancient custom.

In the United States, this day was reserved for caring for cemeteries and for laying flowers on graves. At that time, everywhere, even in Maury County, there were small family or community cemeteries, and families with loved ones buried there considered cemetery maintenance a special obligation. Even now, the Carter’s Creek community gathers at Lasting Hope Cemetery for a business meeting, but it’s still called Decoration Day.

Legend has it that when southern women gathered to decorate the graves of their fallen heroes in the 1860s, they also decorated the graves of Union soldiers. According to historical accounts, more than 25 cities claim to have had the first day of decoration.

In 1971, Congress standardized Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. Maury County has traditionally observed Memorial Day with flags waving prominently on the way to town.

The Herbert Griffin Post of the American Legion Post 19 is a group dedicated to preserving Memorial Day traditions.

The post is named after Corporal Herbert Griffin, who was born in Darks Mill and died in France on July 18, 1918 at the age of 21.

The designation 40&8 comes from World War I when train carriages could carry 40 men or eight horses. American flags are placed at each soldier’s grave at Rose Hill Cemetery on Thursday afternoon before Memorial Day. The Ladies Auxiliary has carried on the tradition for many years.

The courthouse monuments make up the Veterans Memorial Plaza.

A special plaque honors Commanding General William Potts, soldier, leader and humanitarian. Other monuments honor those in Maury County who lost their lives defending America.

The list on the monument surrounded by a fence begins with World War I and continues with World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada-Lebanon, the Panama Canal and the Persian Gulf.

The inscription reads: “To honor all who served and in eternal memory of those in Maury County who made the supreme sacrifice.” The Gold Star Memorial also stands on the lawn. The inscription reads: “A tribute to the Gold Star families whose loved one paid the ultimate price to defend the United States of America.” The broken column reflects the sense of loss we must feel for these heroes.

Monuments on the other side of the courthouse list the names of individuals and the wars in which their lives were lost.

Wreath laying ceremonies

On Memorial Day, members of the American Legion will have two wreath laying ceremonies.

9am ceremony

At the courthouse near the large monument at 9 a.m. a red, white and blue wreath will be laid. The next wreath laying will take place at the John Harlan Willis Bridge on the Nashville Freeway.

Army Veteran Brett Miller of Syracuse, NY visits the US Marine Corps War Memorial on Memorial Day in Arlington, Va.  Miller and his wife rode their motorcycle to Washington to visit his father's grave in Arlington Cemetery.

Harlan Willis, a Marine Hospital pharmacist first lieutenant stationed on Iwo Jima, treated the wounded Marines. Although he was injured and sent back to the aid station, he continued to help his comrades. As they were pelted with grenades, he began throwing the grenades back, according to county historical accounts. He saved many lives by knocking over eight grenades but lost his own when the ninth grenade exploded in his hand. He was killed instantly on February 28, 1945.

10 a.m. ceremony

Once these wreaths are placed, members of the American Legion will proceed to the Memorial Day observance at 10 a.m. at Polk Memorial Gardens. For over 30 years, a ceremony of reflection has taken place in the back west corner of the cemetery called The Arbors. This gathering will feature a guest speaker, bagpiper, singers and musicians. Refreshments are served by staff. Several hundred are expected.

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At Pine Crest Cemetery near Neapolis, there will be a ceremony similar to that at the Polk Memorial. A presentation of the flag will be made by Central High School ROTC. Following the flag pledge and welcoming remarks, there will be a guest speaker and special music and refreshments. The rally has become a traditional part of Memorial Day in Maury County.

On Memorial Day, citizens can wear a small red paper poppy to honor those who lost their lives in war.

Sometimes veterans distribute the poppies and, in turn, receive a small donation. Red poppies, symbolizing bloodshed, grew widely in Europe after World War I because minerals left over from war enriched the soil.

The poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrane, MD, was written while serving on the front lines in 1915. The opening lines are “In Flanders Field, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…”

Sheila Hickman, Colombia