Considering the meaning of Memorial Day

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    Courtesy President Ford Field Service Council

    What started as a somber holiday honoring our military’s fallen after the Civil War has evolved into a weekend centered around celebrating the beginning of summer with picnics, cornhole tournaments, day trips to the beach and an extra day of leisure.  

    Eric Nelson, the parade coordinator of the United Veterans Council of Kent County, encourages people to consider the meaning of this holiday as they gather this Memorial Day weekend. 

    “To me, Memorial Day is a time of mourning and reflection. For several centuries, men and women have sacrificed their lives for the United States. They have given all they could so our constitution will remain intact, that our nation will continue on under the greatest form of government ever put in place, that their own progeny will have a life of freedom and prosperity. These men and women gave their all for the citizens of the United States of America. Their sacrifice was great. Remember, Memorial Day is a solemn occasion and not the day for barbecues and fun. It is not a day of convenience,” Nelson said. ““My committee is trying to educate those folks who come down to watch the parades. To some extent, we want to revive the feeling of patriotism in our community.”

    The weekend will kick off with National Poppy Day, Friday May 26 (the Friday before Memorial Day), a tradition started in the US by the American Legion. Red poppies are sold and worn to honor the fallen and support the living who have worn our nation’s uniform. Proceeds go to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities.

    The reason red poppies became a symbol of remembrance of fallen soldiers can be traced back to World War I battlefields in the Belgian provinces of West and East Flanders. The first records of fields ablaze with red poppies appeared in letters sent home from allied troops. Prior to the continual bombardment, relatively few poppies grew in these fields. Explosions sent buried seeds to the surface that became fertilized by nitrogen from the gunfire, limestone of decimated buildings and blood soaked soil. 

    “I would like to invite everyone to come down and see the parade; pay your respect to our fallen military; come over to the Veterans Memorial Park. Plans are to place 2,000 poppies in the park in order to remind us of Flanders Field; please join us,” said Nelson.

    The 2023 Grand Rapids Memorial Day Parade will take place on Tuesday, May 30. It starts at 6 p.m. on Division Ave. under the I-196 overpass and proceeds south on Division and then east on Fulton, ending with a short ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park.

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    Lisa Enos is the editor of Grand Rapids Magazine. Email Lisa at lenos at hour-media dot com.
    Ever since Pasha Shipp could talk, she's been dreaming up colorful stories. Fantasy creatures, mysterious kingdoms, enchanted forests, you name it. As she reached adulthood, she decided to take the magic out of her head and put it down on paper. Pasha has been writing for Grand Rapids Magazine since November 2015, and has loved every minute of it. She has a master's degree in Communication and a bachelor's degree in Film Studies from Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University respectively. When she isn't daydreaming and writing stories for the magazine, she's exploring the many hidden treasures of Grand Rapids with her fiancé.