“Tell us about Memorial Day,” Kinsley requested.
Actually, there were so many beginnings and true stories about the origin of the holiday that he chose to address their argument instead.
“I suppose the custom of honoring of those who serve is as old as mankind. Who would not honor someone who died while helping them? From the first war, there have been heroes – and honor for their sacrifice.” He looked at Randy. “So, you see, any day is a good day to honor them.” He turned his attention back to Tommy.
“Randy is right. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it was first called, is a day set aside to honor those who died while serving our country. Veteran’s Day was created as a day to honor anyone who has served, and Armed Forces Day was created to honor those currently serving.”
Randy gave Tommy a smug look, but Tommy didn’t notice because he was watching Drago. His expression was perplexed.
“Does that mean that today it is wrong to honor soldiers who didn’t die in a war?”
“Wrong?” Drago slowly shook his head. “Is it wrong to worship God on any day but Sunday? Do you love your mother only on Mother’s Day? Are you thankful for what you have only on Thanksgiving Day?”
All three children vigorously shook their heads.
Drago looked at Randy. “Wouldn’t you say it is never the wrong day to honor someone?”
Randy lowered his gaze and studied his bare feet, his chin bobbing off his chest in a silent nod.
Drago turned his attention to Kinsley, who was still hanging on his every word. You asked me to tell you about Memorial Day. As I have indicated, it would be impossible to state precisely when the first fallen soldier was honored in a ceremony. We do know that Memorial Day, as it is observed today, was established by congress in 1971. We know the intent was to pay tribute to military personnel who died while serving, but that isn’t the whole story. It never is, is it?
Kinsley indicated agreement by shaking her head. The children watched him with wide-eyed interest as they silently waited for him to continue. He could hardly disappoint them.
“It has been estimated that around 620,000 American soldiers died during the Civil War between 1861 and 1865. That’s more than any conflict in American history, and every casualty was an American. Two percent of our population was lost in that war.
After the war ended, some towns began having springtime tributes to the fallen soldiers. Flowers were picked and placed on their graves, and prayers were said over them. Everyone knew someone who had died in that war.
Waterloo, New York had their first annual celebration on May 5, 1866. The stores closed and people decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. On May 30, 1868, the custom was referred to as Decoration Day. Do you know why?
Kinsley nodded and all three children spoke at once. “Because they decorated the graves.”
“Precisely.” Drago lifted one leg and placed it over the other. “And in the beginning, this custom honored only those soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War One, it included all conflicts.” He looked at Randy. “Did you know that the first soldiers in Arlington Cemetery were Civil War casualties?”
Randy shook his head. He wasn’t as sure of himself now. Confidence was a virtue, but arrogance was self-destruction. He continued.
“In 1968, congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and by 1971 it became a federal holiday.
He leaned back on the bench. “With all these holidays honoring those in service, perhaps it doesn’t matter when congress established a specific holiday. Obviously, people desire to show their respect and appreciation for those who protect and serve us.” He let his sharp gaze fall on each of them. “It is good to know what each holiday means, but the only way to learn is to keep your mind open to all possibilities and listen to others. If each of you goes to the library…” he paused, “Or the internet…and researches, I’m sure you will find many interesting facts about this holiday that you can discuss with each other. That way you all learn from each other.” He paused again. “People are more receptive in a pleasant atmosphere.”
Randy dropped his head again. “You sound like my grandpa.”
Drago rumbled deep in his throat. “Perhaps you should listen to your grandfather more often.”
Kinsley placed her hand over his and ran her thumb across one of his long claws. She plucked the stick from between his fingers and tossed it aside as if it was there accidentally. She sighed. “I like to listen to old people.” Her head jerked up and her eyes grew wide. “I mean…you’re not so old.”
Drago choked down a laugh. “I am centuries old.”
“Yes, but you know so much.”
“Of course. The older you are, the more things you have seen.” He looked at the others. “It is good that you question, because that is how we learn best.” He leaned his head back. “And now I must rest.”
The children left him then. They walked away, their earlier arguments forgotten as they imagined how it would feel to die. Hopefully they wouldn’t focus on that part. He leaned his head back. He had given them enough information to direct their research. That was all he could do. He leaned his head back and slept.