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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    Your Turn: Month of May marks both Mother’s Day and Memorial Day

    Mother’s Day dates back to Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, a social activist and community organizer, during the Civil War era.

    Before the Civil War, Jarvis created the Mother’s Day Work Club, with the goal of teaching local ladies how to care for their children. These clubs unified women. And in 1868, Jarvis came up with something called Mothers’ Friendship Day, which had moms of Confederate and Union soldiers come together to promote harmony.

    Right around the same time, suffragette Julia Ward Howe, in 1870, wrote what’s called the Mother’s Day Proclamation, to promote world peace and pushed for a Mother’s Peace Day to be celebrated in June. We need more than one day of world peace right now.

    Mother’s Day is born

    Meanwhile, in the 1900s, Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann, came up with a genius idea that was ahead of its time: a day to honor mothers and the sacrifices they make for their kids. Thus, Mother’s Day was born.

    Ironically, Jarvis herself was both unmarried and childless, but she pushed to have her holiday added to the calendar by kicking off a letter-writing campaign. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure that officially made the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day.”

    Author Susan Cain perhaps summed up best the importance of mothers when she wrote, “The mother-child bond is the strongest human bond, the source of human compassion for others, especially those most vulnerable. Mothers represent love itself.”

    Memorial Day beginnings

    Memorial Day, initially known as Decoration Day, originated in the years following the Civil War. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to the countless fallen soldiers of this war, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

    Americans also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials.

    Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war — a tradition that began with a World War I poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, who spotted a cluster of poppies that spring. Struck by the sight of bright red blooms on broken ground, McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Field,” in which he channeled the voice of the fallen soldiers buried under the poppies.

    Civil War veterans

    For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date a Union general had selected for the first Decoration Day. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month.

    “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

    In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

    Closing words

    The following words of two American presidents perhaps best sum up the significance of Memorial Day.

    “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – Harry S. Truman

    “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” — Ronald Reagan

    Jim Izzo is a retired teacher living in Mystic.

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