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Friday, June 01, 2018

DENNIS PATRICK: MEMORIAL DAY POSTLUDE

Another year, another spring, another Memorial Day celebrated and time moves on. In retrospect, we kept Memorial Day 2018 with appropriate reflections on the reasons for the observance. Many are aware that the day takes on greater significance as we grow older.

Memorial Day is a time for remembering. Even if we cannot visit the grave site of family members, nevertheless they are commemorated in thought. This is true for my deceased parents who are buried in Colorado. Both are interred at Fort Logan National Cemetery in the shadow of the magnificent Rocky Mountains.

I’m pleased they are together again. Dad lived his life as an Army officer and it was a sad day when he retired. Having lost his own father early in life, he joined the Army as a young man during the Great Depression. In a way, the Army became a surrogate father to him teaching him life skills. When laid to rest at Fort Logan in 1997, it was as if he rejoined the ranks of those with whom he had spent so many years. Then, after living side by side as helpmates for decades, Mom joined him in 2008 in their final resting place together once again.

The beauty and serenity of a national cemetery, any national cemetery, does justice to those who endured tribulation in service to their country. Our national cemetery system began auspiciously during the War Between the States. Tradition tells of a young German man who came to the United States at the outbreak of the War and enlisted in the Union Army. Near the close of the war the soldier remarked casually that it was a German custom to strew flowers on the graves of soldiers once a year. Nothing came of his observation at that time.

In May, 1868, General John A. Logan concurred with a proposal by Adjutant General N. P. Chipman that it would be appropriate to form an organization for spreading flowers on the graves of Union soldiers. Accordingly, General Logan designated May 30, 1868, as the day for “...decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country...with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of the departed.”

That was the beginning. In time, Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day. Following World War I, the holiday expanded to include recognition of the fallen from all of America’s wars.

In 1973 oversight of the national cemeteries passed from the Department of the Army to the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Today, the National Cemetery Administration, under the VA, honors veterans with final resting places in 141 national cemeteries and with lasting tribute that commemorates their service to our nation. They maintain the system of national cemeteries as national shrines, sacred to the honor and memory of those interred or memorialized there. Additionally, every national cemetery serves to inspire visitors to understand and appreciate the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit several national cemeteries over the years. Many of the Army posts to which I was assigned had a long history dating back to the days when those posts had their own cemeteries. Cemeteries at Fort Knox, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Sheridan, Fort Benning and others are all uniformly peaceful, tranquil, and lovely. Most notable, of course, is Arlington National Cemetery where my son had the privilege of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Which brings me back to Fort Logan. Fort Logan was first established in 1889 and occupied by the 18th Infantry. Over the years the fort experienced its ups and downs as the Army expanded and contracted. In 1950 congress authorized the use of military lands at Fort Logan as a national cemetery.

I wonder if this Memorial Day brought bright sunshine and gentle breezes to Fort Logan. Typically, every headstone has before it a small American Flag placed by a volunteer in celebration of Memorial Day. I feel pride and deep emotion with the decorum providing the honor and dignity of hallowed ground.

As a fitting tribute to those who served and are with us no more the National Cemetery Administration, in 2001, began installing at all national cemeteries aluminum tablets containing the first stanza of the elegiac poem “Bivouac of the Dead” by Theodore O’Hara. His poem has been compared favorably to Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life.”

It reads in part:

On Fame’s eternal camping-ground

Their silent tents are spread,

And Glory guards, with solemn round,

The bivouac of the dead.

 

I am pleased this Memorial Day to have the memory of my parents together at Fort Logan. This is as it should be.

 

Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  

 

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