Most people enjoyed a day off work Monday — camping, hiking, picnicking, playing ball, or kicking back to watch television.

Others visited cemeteries to decorate graves because Memorial Day, a federal holiday since 1971, is a time to acknowledge the sacrifices of the American military men and women who died in service to their country.

What was originally called Decoration Day began in Waterloo, New York, May 5, 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War, which tore apart this nation and its families. That bloody rebellion in the early 1860s claimed the lives of 620,000 people — nearly half of the 1,264,000 who have died in all the nation’s wars.

Since the Civil War, the United States military has lost more than 640,000 people during hostile actions, which killed millions of people worldwide:

• Spanish-American War:  2,446 (385 battle deaths)

• World War I: 116,516   (53,402 battle deaths)           • World War II: 416,800  (291,557 battle deaths)

• Korean War:  36,914    (33,739 battle deaths)           

• Vietnam War: 58,220   (47,434 battle deaths)           

• Desert Shield/Desert Storm:  383 (148 battle deaths)                          

• War on Terror: 6,954 as of November 2018

Beginning in 1868, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, and it continued on that day until 1968, when it was moved to the last Monday in May under the federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create a three-day weekend, according to www.history.com.

The red poppies often worn on Memorial Day to honor fallen servicemen began with a poem written during World War I by Lt. Col. John McCrae, an Allied surgeon who cared for wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium during the spring of 1915. There on the Western Front, he spied a cluster of poppies in a field where so many men had died in battle.

“In Flanders Field”

In Flanders field the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”

 

McCrae’s poem was published by Punch magazine in late 1915, but the author died of pneumonia and meningitis in January 1918, about 10 months before World War I ended. Moina Michael, a female University of Georgia professor who read the poem, vowed to wear a red poppy to remember fallen soldiers and developed the idea of creating silk poppies to sell to raise money for veterans.

While the statistics show the number of men and women who have died while serving our country, they don’t put faces on those names. Faces that most veterans returning alive from the war remember, faces they’ll never forget.

That’s why it’s nice to have The Faces of the Wall, virtual pages that tell the stories of those who perished during the Vietnam War, including 1,050 Washingtonians. It can be found at https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/. Among those are 21 men from Lewis County.

A book published in 1920 called “In the Service: The Great World War Honor Roll Southwest Washington,” lists the names of local men who served and died during the First World War. It’s available at the library and online at www.skagithistory.com/swww1sersvice1.html. It lists 40 local men who died.

The National Archives lists the names of the approximately 5,500 names of Washingtonians who died during World War II: Find the 1,505 from the Navy and Marine Corps at www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/navy-casualties and then click “Washington.” A list of the war’s nearly 4,000 Washington state Army and Air Force casualties is at www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/army-casualties/washington.html. Click on “Klickitat, Lewis, Lincoln and Mason” to see a list of local men who perished.

The names of 488 servicemen from Washington who died in the Korean War, often referred to as the Forgotten War, can be found at www.archives.gov/files/research/military/korean-war/casualty-lists/wa-alpha.pdf.

A list of casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom through 2015 can be found at cms.qz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/oefnames-of-fallen1.pdf. The names of those who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom can be found at cms.qz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/oifnames-of-fallen.pdf. That’s where the names of Centralia’s Marine Corps Cpl. Joseph Phillip Bier and Regina Renee Clark, a Navy Reserve member who had worked at Fuller’s Market Basket, are listed. The names of casualties in Operation New Dawn, the name of the campaign after troop reductions, can be found at cms.qz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/ondnames-of-fallen.pdf.

Nobody wants to glorify war. But it’s important to remember the sacrifices of all those who served—and died—while fighting for this nation and its interests. In keeping with the motto of the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, “they shall not be forgotten.”

 

•••

Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.

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