by Kathlena Peebles[Copyright, 1996]
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day set aside for remembrance of those who have died in our nations service. Memorial Day was first proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, in his General order number 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868; when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. The South, at first, refused to acknowledge, Memorial Day, honoring their dead on separate days until after WWI. It is now observed in almost every state of the union on the last Monday of every May. Since the Civil War more than 1.1 million veterans, both women and men, have lost their lives in service to America. Indeed the Civil War alone accounted for more than 600,00 dead.
On Memorial Day I had the opportunity to witness a memorial in San Francisco, aboard a submarine, the USS Pampanito, a submarine that was used in WWII and Korea. The United States submarine service suffered the highest percentage of casualties than any other of the services that served in WWII. They also sank over 55% of all Japanese shipping sunk in WWII. This was all pointed out to me with pride by several of these veterans.
As our National Anthem was played over the speaker system some of them started to cry as they remembered all of their fallen comrades, the ones that served with them, and the ones that did not. I thought about how many of these veterans brothers had made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may all enjoy the freedom this country offers.
As we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance I saw the reaction on their faces, it was a thoughtful, respectful look, a look of such sadness. I thought about what my dad’s submarine veterans group was really all about “To perpetuate the memory of our shipmates who gave their lives while serving in the United State Naval Submarines” I then started to cry myself with the realization of what that really meant . All those old sailors, my dad included, standing on the deck of an old submarine holding the flag with such pride and sadness.
Then it was time for the speakers to give their speeches about their experiences and the meaning of Memorial Day. A WWII veteran talked about the hardships and struggles and the fact that he was lucky to be alive when so many of his brothers had fallen victim to the war. One talked about how it was up to the veterans to teach “our children about the sacrifices made by so many”. Another said, “that America will only be the land of the free so long as it is the home of the Brave”. So many of the speakers spoke with so much pride about America that it was hard not to think about all the people who have no idea what this holiday is really about. While they go to their Bar B Q’s and beaches there are some who keep up a tradition of pride in service to the United States of America and remember all those who had fallen, and rejoice in the ones who still live and remember. Let none of us ever forget what Memorial Day really is.
Kathlena Peebles was a Junior at Highlands High School in North Highlands, CA when she wrote this. The essay was punishment for missing a band function on Memorial Day to witness a Memorial Day presentation by her father’s submariner veterans group aboard the USS Pampanito [US Sub Vets, Inc. Mare Island Base]. She wrote an essay about what Memorial Day really is, succinctly expressing the Spirit of Memorial Day. The day is a day to remember and honor those who fell in battle. Which is what she did, and was punished for.
Ms. Peebles’ essay is one of the more popular writings on this site. Permission is granted to reprint her essay, as long as it is not altered, and that she is given full credit for it.