A kiss and a prayer for our benefit

Susan S. Johnson

This year Memorial Day falls on its traditional day, May 30, the day set aside — originally as “Decoration Day” — to honor the nation’s military dead after the Civil War.

In 1971, however, Congressional fussbudgets unhooked the solemn day from tradition and now it floats to whatever day follows the last Sunday in May.

That was a mistake because Memorial Day is now more about a three-day weekend to kick off summer than a sacred moment or two among weathered gravestones, honored dead, and lives cut short as it had been for the previous century or so.

But I, who never served in the military or even the Boy Scouts, have no personal claim to this holiday or the sacrifices it represents.

My only connection to these one-time servants is that I occasionally walk among the hundreds of military graves in a leafy, rolling 140-acre public cemetery a mile from my home.

I’m not the first visitor. According to local history, Native Americans used its high ground to build several effigy burial mounds between “C. 500-1000 A.D.”

They remain and it’s easy to see why. The cemetery sits atop a notable rise to give both the living and the dead a view in every direction–including eternity.

Last Memorial Day, local officials acknowledged the cemetery’s veterans with speeches, prayers, and martial music while standing under two, giant burr oaks in the center of “Soldiers’ Rest,” a small uniform plot holding the earthly remains of 240 Union soldiers.

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