A Reflection for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an American holiday set aside to remember and honor all those who died while serving in the American Armed Forces. The origin of the holiday is not entirely clear. In fact, several cities claim to be the birthplace of the holiday: Charleston, SC; Waterloo, NY; and Columbus, GA.

The Charleston story is especially poignant. During the Civil War, 257 Union soldiers died in the prison in Charleston. They were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Shortly after the war, the town’s black residents

Gettysburg, PA

landscaped a burial ground and gave the men a proper burial. At the dedication of the new cemetery, the people decorated the graves, listened to speeches, prayed, and then did what many of us still do on Memorial Day: they had a picnic nearby.

No matter who gets credit for the holiday, this fact is clear. The entire nation had suffered unbelievable losses in the Civil War. The problem arose: how to memorialize and honor the 625,000 dead? The poet Walt Whitman describes how vast the carnage was: it was “the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—or South or North, ours all.” 625,000 dead! If the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam, the Vietnam War Memorial would have 4 million names on it instead of 58,000.

After the Civil War, memorial celebrations took root in cities and towns across the country—in both the North and the South. The day was originally called Decoration Day and was celebrated on various dates too, usually at the end of May. But in 1968 Congress officially named the day Memorial Day and set the date for the last Monday in May. This assured everyone of a three-day weekend. For many, the day also became the official beginning of summer.

National Cemetery at Gettysburg

In the U.S. we also celebrate Veterans’ Day on November 11. Whereas Memorial Day honors those who actually died while serving, Veterans’ Day honors all who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces.

How do you celebrate Memorial Day?

* By displaying the American flag?

* By participating in local ceremonies and festivities?

* By going to Mass?

* By having a picnic?

* By watching the National Memorial Day concert on the west lawn of the capitol building?

* By your personal prayer of remembrance?

* By praying for peace?

* By doing some form of service to those in need?

However we choose to celebrate Memorial Day, may we never forget its origin and purpose: to honor those who gave the supreme sacrifice of their lives that we might have the gift of freedom. And may we continue to use that freedom to work and pray for peace that will eventually make war memorials a thing of the past.

Happy Memorial Day to all of you!

I chose “Let there Be Peace on Earth” for today’s song. This version is sung by Vince Gill and others.

Do you have anything you’d like to share today?


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  1. Char on May 28, 2018 at 9:22 am

    I so look forward to Monday mornings!
    Today’s song is one of my very favorites and so appropriate for today,
    Blessings for A Beautiful Week!

  2. Susie on May 28, 2018 at 9:22 am

    I’m surprised that you would use a sexist language of only “brothers” and not use a different word, like “neighbors” or “sisters” that second time it was sung!.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 28, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Dear Susie, This is the original version of the song written in 1955 before most of us were sensitive about gender inclusive language. In the 1983 version, the phrase “brothers all are we” is changed to “we are family.” And “Let us walk with my brother” is changed to “Let us walk with each other.” I personally think it’s good when gender exclusive language jars us. It’s a sign we have become more sensitive to sexist language… Thank you for writing! Sr. Melannie

  3. Verner Jackson Canatsey on May 28, 2018 at 10:19 am

    I love that song. I wish the whole world would live by it, starting with my family. There is just to much hatred and vitriol in the world. And we are entering the period when it really comes out in this country (Politics). We need to just turn off the TV and Internet until after the election. No one needs this much negativity in their lives.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 28, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      Dear Verner, Though we cannot run away from bad news, we can take a healthy break from it on a regular basis. Also, we must remember that the news media focus on the negative, that is, on things that are wrong, or things that need our attention or work. That’s their job. So that means we must search for the good that is all around us–to balance this focus on the negative. Thanks for your response! Sr. Melannie

  4. Jean Canatsey on May 28, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I so long for peace in our families…..and the broader family of our world…..
    Peace be with you, Sr. Melannie….

  5. scarolynj on May 28, 2018 at 11:02 am


    Thank you for such a beautiful and prayerful meditation for this special day. AMEN to all you wrote. Let’s also remember in prayer the many family members who have lost their beloved in service to our country. All are in my daily prayer.

  6. Ann & Rich on May 28, 2018 at 11:24 am

    I used to sing this song (Let there be peace on earth) to my 3 daughters as they were growing up and going through sibling rivalry. It brought back many memories. Thank you for your Monday morning meditations.

  7. Ed Johnson on May 28, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Many years ago as a boy growing up in small-town middle America, the annual Memorial Day Parade was really special. While they still occur, the number seems greatly diminished. A cherished tradition is the “Flags In” ritual each year at Arlington; 250,000 flags placed at the grave of those interred. It is a sacred sight to behold. Wonderful song; wonderful meaning. May all our deceased armed forces have eternal peace. Thank you, Sister.
    Ed J.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 28, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      Like you, Ed, I am very moved when I see all those American flags on the graves of our veterans… And I am grateful for the individuals who took the time to plant them there! Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  8. Barbara on May 28, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    We don’t celebrate Memorial Day in Canada, but our hearts yearn for peace in our families, peace in our world just as yours do. I love the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and I believe that it will exist only when all of us are able to “let it begin with me.” Then it will ripple out into the far corners of the world and we will all walk in brotherhood and sisterhood. Thank you for reminding us all that we are called to be channels of peace, Sr. Melannie. Blessings!

  9. Mary Fran on May 28, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Seems that though the origin and history of now Memorial Day may be a bit fuzzy that the founding vision and intent has been sustained while adapting to the causes and processes of conflict and war. The challenge now seems to be keeping it a Memorial day and not (just) a celebration of the outset of summer.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 28, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      I agree with you, Mary Fran, about hanging on to that “founding vision and intent” of this holiday… Nicely said. Melannie

  10. Patty on May 28, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you, Sister.

  11. Josita on May 28, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks once more, Melannie, for an interesting look at this special day. It always touches my heart to remember all of our service men and women who bravely suffered so much for our freedom. I especially liked the National concert this year…brought tears to my eyes.
    God bless America and all those who are sacrificing their lives for us.
    Love, Josita

  12. Terry Corr on May 29, 2018 at 6:56 am

    I don’t think there are too many people who hear Let There Be Peace on Earth and DON’T jerk a tear or two. Peace and harmony are ideals that lie within all human hearts despite our life situations indicating otherwise. And just to be reminded that there were 625,000 of our fellow Americans who sacrificed their lives beacons us to contemplate once again…WHY? I’d like to think that we’re better off today but with the realities of racism and inequality and an increasing amount of palpable hate in our society our reaching for ideals like peace and harmony are eternal at best. God gives us the free will to convey love toward our fellow human beings. Let it begin with ME.

  13. Frances on May 29, 2018 at 7:30 am

    I attend a Memorial Day service each year in a very small PA town. It is the most touching tribute to those who have fallen in the service of our country. The names of the town’s residents who made the supreme sacrifice are read, along with their age, and the war in which they served. The boy scouts, girl scouts and cub scouts are involved in reading the Gettysburg Address, the raising of the flags and the laying of the wreath. In addition, they ask for veterans that are present to line up, tell the branch of the service they served and when. They are thanked for their service. The first time we attended, 13 years ago, my husband’s eyes filled as he said, “this is the first time I’ve been thanked since I served in Vietnam.” This community is treasuring the meaning of this day, and keeping it alive for the coming generation.

  14. Chris Keil on May 29, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Beautiful. We always went to the local parade and had a cook out. When we were living in North Caroling in the late 1980’s I was shocked that they did not observe Memorial Day!!! I was told by the “locals” that it was “Yankee holiday”! Some of us Yankees celebrated anyway but the kids still had to go to school!!!! Not sure what they do today!

  15. Marilyn on May 29, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Beautiful thoughts! Beautiful music! Beautiful video! Thank you! We went to Mass at one of the local cemeteries as my dear dad was a member in a group of Catholic men who sang at the Mass. Peace!

  16. Rosemary LeVoyer on May 30, 2018 at 12:20 am

    Thank you for the Beautiful reminder of what it means….not a celebration, but a Thankful reminder that Freedom is not free and so many lives lost so that we may live in Freedom. The song is a favorite and if EACH person practiced kindness each day, Peace would be felt by many.
    God Blees you Melanie and thank you for always making my week ♥️♥️

  17. Jan Falvey on May 31, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    I go to the cemeteries to plant flowers, make sure that there is a flag on my uncle Howard’s grave (for some reason he wasn’t buried in the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery like my Mom and Dad). I plan to do this until the end of my days. The men and women who serve in times of peace and war, and those who have died are hero’s to me.

  18. Elizabeth Hillegas on June 2, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    My church family sings this every Sunday after the benediction. So beautiful. Peace to you, Sister.

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