Charlie Extrum, 15 (left), and Caleb Ward, 17 (right), work together to plant flags near headstones at the Veterans Cemetery in Grand Island. (Independent/Scott Kingsley)
Memorial day originated after the American Civil War in 1868 when an organization of Union Army veterans established it as a time for the nation to decorate Union graves with flowers.
By the 20th century, competing union and confederate holiday traditions had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
On this Memorial Day, let us remember with reverence those who died protecting our great country. As we reflect on the sacrifices people gave while honoring their duty to country, we can ponder on our personal duties.
On this day especially, we can reflect on our personal duty to God and America.
The first BSA Handbook for Boys, published in 1911 says “no boys can grow into the best kind of citizenship without recognizing his obligation to God.”
Part of being prepared for life is looking to God for strength and help. The best thing we can do for our country is to be a kind and reverent person that strengthens others around us.
On this day, Scouts can follow their duty to God by having a reverence for Memorial Day activities. Traditional observances can have a strong impact on a Scout as he reflects on both his duty to God and country.
Traditionally, observing Memorial Day begins with the raising of the flag. It is raised briskly to the top of the staff. Then, it solemnly lowers to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position honors the more than one million men and women who gave their lives serving this country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living who resolve to not let their sacrifice be in vain. They rise up, continuing the fight for liberty.
Other traditional observances include wearing red poppies, visiting cemeteries and decorating the graves of fallen heroes.
A Scoutmaster’s minute is the perfect opportunity to help Scouts observe Memorial Day. Here is “The Cadet’s Prayer,” by Colonel Clayton E. Wheat.
The Cadet’s Prayer
“O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of men’s hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won.
Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.
May we find genuine pleasure in clean and wholesome mirth and feel inherent disgust for all course-minded humor. Help us in our work and in our play, to keep ourselves physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight, that we may better maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied, and acquit ourselves like men in our efforts to realize the ideals of The Citadel in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of Men. – Amen.”
— Colonel Clayton E. Wheat
Our Memorial Day
This Memorial Day, let us come together with our brothers and sisters. Just as the Union and the Confederacy eventually saw past differences, we too can put aside prejudices to remember those who died while in the service of our country.
So, let us remember our duty to God, and “kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.” By remembering our duty to God, we can observe Memorial Day with reverence and thoughtfulness.