Traditionally, it’s been the opening of summer for those of us that grew up in the upper Midwest. Sometimes we had snow in May, so out of necessity, the holiday at the end of May was chosen as The Start of Summer. I do remember going with my parents to cemeteries, to put flowers and flags on graves. We didn’t always do that, but I do have pretty clear memories of visiting graves.
There was always a parade, with Veterans marching down main street, in our small town. Our family did not have anybody close, that had given their life while serving our country, so I really did not spend a lot of time thinking about the day. Just happy for the longer weekend and family we got to visit that day.
In the 90’s, the Mrs was director of the GAR Hall and County Museum in her home town. The GAR Hall had been built by veterans of the Civil War and had a strong tie to history and Memorial Day. Part of running the place included having a brat feed for the community and handing out rifles to the Veterans marching in the parade. The hall and museum was stuffed full of neat things from the Civil War and Meeker County, MN.
Part of the history of Meeker County was living through the Sioux uprising of 1862, also know as Little Crow’s War. Little Crow was a chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota people. This happened during the Civil War and nobody really knows how many settlers and Indians were killed during this uprising. Minnesota was not well settled yet, and many who lost their lives were not found and accounted for.
The farm my wife had when I met her was in the area of this conflict. Forest City, an impromptu stockade for the settlers during the uprising was around 7 miles to the northeast of us. It was a trading post that became a fort in 24 hours. Settlers started streaming in, with stories of horror and massacres. The trading post had timber cut for a church, and the Home Guard and displaced citizens erected a log stockade in a very short time. Hundreds of people had taken shelter in the stockade and the next morning, after the log walls went up, 200 or so Indians attacked the stockade. They were driven off with minimal injuries to those defending the walls.
Lots and lots of very interesting history in the area where we grew up. Most of the information is online, but I learned it from word of mouth. Many people had stories, passed down from their grandparents. This is what people did, when they got together. On the wife’s farm, our next door neighbor’s dad was, incredibly, a very tiny baby in that stockade in 1862. That little boy grew up, and when he was in his 80’s, fathered children. I know, hard to believe, but life is always stranger than fiction, and from what I could find out, it’s all true.
We’ve moved around, a bit, since then. In Missouri, we visited Civil War Veterans’ graves in an out of the way cemetery. They use marble for headstones and many of them were so weathered, you could just barely read the dates. In New Mexico, we had Apache friends and listened to a whole different point of view on war and service to your country.
In Kansas, one of my friend’s son lost his life in Afghanistan while serving as Sargent in the Army. The whole community grieved and turned out to pay our respects to this fine young man.
We as a nation, need to remember those who have served, but today is for those that did not come home. Go find a cemetery and take a walk. It is the very least you can do.