Family & Friends

Memorial Day: Remembering Those Who Died in Service, and the Wounded and Traumatized



On May 30, 1868, families across the nation laid wreaths on the graves of soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War. That was the first national observance of Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day, for the medals and ribbons left on the grave sites).

Unlike Veterans Day, held annually on November 11, which celebrates all U.S. Military veterans, Memorial Day is devoted to honoring only those who died in war. We believe the day’s remembrances should include the damaged who did not die —like Patricia Yarberry Allen’s father, who came back from War II permanently traumatized, and Cathy Smith’s son Tomas Young, shot in Fallujah, who became a paraplegic, then a quadriplegia, and who took 10 years to die.

“I think how grateful I am to have had those 10 years with Tomas, even the five that came after a blood clot burst in Tomas’s brain, robbing him of speech,” Smith told writer Chris Lombardi. “This country is big on looking at war as glory. But in saying ‘wounded’ they don’t think about catheters and IV pumps and the ones we lost even though they came home. . . . I don’t think anyone would join the army if they thought, My mom might have to handle my poop for the rest of my life!”

The families who mourn the death of a loved one deserve honoring for their sacrifices too; war has cost them dearly, as Emily Bronté’s poignant poem Remembrance, on the anguish of a young war widow, makes powerfully clear. (See “Remembering the Women”)


By Chris Lombardi | May 30, 2016

After Cathy Smith’s son Tomas Young was wounded in Fallujah, she became an antiwar activist, joining him as he spoke out against the war in Iraq, and she feels even more [strongly] since becoming a Gold Star Mother. But that doesn’t mean she opposes observing Memorial Day—rather, the opposite. READ MORE


By Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. |  June 19, 2011

I never knew the man who became my father. He was described as mischievous, fun-loving, risk-taking, devoted to family, handsome and hard working by those who knew him before he became the person that I would know. The man who came home from World War II was a shell filled with nightmares, intolerance to loud noises, and certainly filled with anger aimed at those in power and at anyone who defied him. READ MORE


By Chris Lombardi | May 30, 2011

For a lot of my friends and colleagues, [Memorial Day] still is Decoration Day: veterans whose Facebook profile photos are of their lost battle buddies, journalists making sure the newest war lost are properly accounted for. . . . This Decoration Day, I thought I’d mention a few of the women who knew and enacted the meaning of this day in their lives — some doing so right now, some from long ago. While most of us won’t be at a military grave today, we can honor women who have never let themselves forget how that feels. READ MORE


By Amy K. Hughes | May 30, 2016

In the late 19th century, a New York Times reporter objected to the first Memorial Day festivities in a way that may resonate today, as many Americans seem more inclined to celebrate the start of the summer barbeque season than to consider the cost of war: “These occasions are sort of May-Day festivals, gotten up more for the benefit of the living than in any real reverence for the memory of the departed,” he wrote. “They do not serve the dead any good purpose, for they neither feed their widows nor clothe and protect their orphans.” READ MORE


By Women’s Voices For Change | May 26, 2013

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the noted 19th-century author of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Evangeline,” and “The Song of Hiawatha,” wrote this poignant poem a little more than a decade after America had established a new holiday designed to encourage annual reflection on the sacrifices of the fallen. READ MORE


By Women’s Voices For Change | May 26, 2014

Though women have always served in many ways in wartime, Memorial Day originated as a day for remembering men’s sacrifices.

In his famous Memorial Day speech of 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. spoke about why Memorial Day deserved continuing observation. He recognized as well that sacrifices were made not only by the men who gave their lives, but also by the women who mourned them. His speech quoted lines from Emily Bronté’s poignant poem Remembrance. READ MORE

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