Monday, May 26, 2014

Remember the "Memorial" in Memorial Day

Our family spent Memorial Day morning the way we have the last several years, by walking down to our hometown's Main Street to observe and pay our respects at the annual parade.  I've noticed each year though the Memorial Day parade has gotten smaller and smaller with this year it consisting of a small group of World War II veterans from the local VFW being escorted by a pack of Cub Scouts holding American flags.  Unfortunately, the "crowd" watching along the six block route was only slightly larger than those participating in the parade.  Over the years, Memorial Day it appears has become more focused on becoming the official kick-off to summer than a time to pay respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives on behalf of their country.  There also seems to be a mixed message as many of the Memorial Day commemorations I've seen the last few days have been saluting our active duty military and veterans (which is nice) but shouldn't the point of Memorial Day be to respect and remember those who have fallen in service to others so that their sacrifice is not forgotten.

So I'm going to issue a challenge ... use Memorial Day as the inspiration to plan one trip sometime during each year to pay respect to someone you didn't know or have a connection with to help keep the memory of their sacrifice alive.  We'll call this a "memory trip". The next Memorial Day share your memory trip's story with friends and family and than plan out a new adventure to honor the spirit of this holiday for the upcoming year.

Over 100,000 soldiers from the United States died in World War I and all those deaths in Europe's fields of poppies led to Congress building the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and nationalized the Decoration Day ceremonies that had previously honored civil war dead to incorporate all of those who had died in wars on behalf of the country from the Revolution to World War I.  Decoration Day eventually became Memorial Day. As the years have passed and we have become engaged in new conflicts, what transpired a hundred years ago (World War I began in the summer of 1914).  Wouldn't it be nice for all of us to take a moment during this year to take a moment to remember what occurred.  You could pick any conflict for your Memorial Day memory trip but I believe World War I would be a good place to start on this anniversary year.  I'm going to provide a list of some unique places you could go on a road trip to learn about those who sacrificed for our nation during World War I and I'm sure there are plenty more monuments and museums around the country to visit that may be more convenient for a family road trip if these don't work for you.  Please share suggestions in the comments if you have any!


Our family is going to take our Memorial Day memory trip just down the road from our house to White Chapel Cemetery.  Located here is the Polar Bear Monument dedicated to U.S. soldiers who fought and died in Russia during World War I.  Russia was an Ally of the United States during the war until the Bolshevik Revolution.  5,500 American soldiers (75% being from Michigan) were sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks hoping to prevent Allied war supply stock piles from falling into their hands and possibly defeat the Red Army so as to restore the Czar's government to power and reopen Russia's Eastern Front against Germany in the war.  These soldiers who became known as "polar bears" arrived in Arkhangelsk Russia on August 2, 1918. While World War I ended on November 11, 1918 the United States continued to battle with the Bolsheviks in Russia until June of 1919 to counter the perceived threat of communism to other countries.  During this conflict in Russia, 210 polar bears lost their lives.

The remains of 86 polar bears who were buried in Russia were returned by the Soviet Union to the United States in 1929.  The remains of 56 of those soldiers were buried in plots surrounding a Polar Bear sculpture at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.


Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the Liberty Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who died in World War I and houses The National World War I Museum.  Groundbreaking on the memorial took place on November 1, 1921 and it was completed on November 11, 1926.  Congress designated the site as America's official museum dedicated to World War I in 2004 and a brand new subterranean facility was added to the site and opened to the public in 2006.

Visitors to the National World War I Museum enter the 32,000 square foot building across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each poppy representing 1,000 combatant deaths from the war.  The museum displays include:

+ a Renault FT - 17 tank
+ original uniforms
+ original guns/weapons
+ battlefield photos
+ propaganda posters
+ electronic inter-active displays
+replica trenches
+ a research center with 60,000 archival documents

For more information, visit:


Located in Chicago, Illinois the Elks National Veterans Memorial is a Beaux Arts style domed building built by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks to honor members of their order who served in World War I.  The design by Egerton Swartwout was selected in a competition by the American Institute of Architects and the building was constructed between 1924 and 1926.  The building has been described as one of the most magnificent war memorials in the world.  In addition to the building design, it contains numerous sculptures and murals decorating the inside.  The interior of the rotunda features statues depicting the Elks' four cardinal virtues: charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity plus friezes that portray the "Triumphs of War" on one side and "Triumphs of Peace" on the other.  The building also currently serves as the national headquarters for the Elks organization.


The original plans by Congress to honor the fallen from World War I was to create two special tombs at Arlington National Cemetery.  One would honor all the unidentified dead, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ... and one identified soldier would represent all of the soldiers who were identified and buried at locations in Europe or in the United States and be laid to rest in the Tomb of the Known Soldier.

The last declared known American killed in hostilities during World War I, Charles W. Graves was selected to be buried at Arlington Cemetery in the Tomb of the Known Soldier.  When his body was returned to the United States, his mother objected to his being buried at Arlington so instead he was buried back in his hometown of Rome, Georgia.  The Tomb of the Known Soldier was never created at Arlington after Grave's family declined his burial there.  Grave's burial site at Myrtle Hill cemetery is now known as the TOMB OF THE KNOWN SOLDIER and serves as a monument to the dead of the first World War.

A plaque at Grave's grave reads: Charles W. Graves, Private soldier, Born March 8, 1893, Enlisted August 16, 1917, Company M-117 infantry, 5th Tennessee regiment, 30th Division, Killed on the Hindenburg line October 5, 1918, near Nuroy France.  The last of the nation's dead to return to his native soil.  This body was honored by the government of the United States of America as representative of its known dead in the World War.


On Memorial Day 1921, four unknown service men were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France.  U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger who had received the Distinguished Service Cross in "The Great War" was selected to randomly choose the Unknown of World War I from four identical caskets laid out at the city hall in Chalons-en-Champagne on October 24, 1921.   Younger choose the third casket to his left and designated it by leaving a wreath of white roses on it.  The chosen Unknown was transported to Arlington Cemetery.  Those remaining were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in France.

On November 11, 1921, the unknown soldier was interred inside a three-level marble tomb. The body of the unknown was lowered through the top of the marble sarcophagus and is actually buried in the ground below the tomb.  Following the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier additional unknowns from World War II, Korea & Vietnam were buried in front of the Tomb with white stone crypts to identify their graves.

In 1998 the remains of Vietnam's Unknown Soldier were determined to be 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, an air force pilot who was shot down in 1972.  His remains were sent to his family in their hometown of St. Louis Missouri where he was re-interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  His former crypt at Arlington has been replaced with a new empty one that has had references to Vietnam removed.  The new crypt is inscribed:  Honoring & Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen."

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by soldiers of the United States Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment.  It is considered an honor to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns (the Tomb actually has never been officially named by Congress or the military). Fewer than 20 percent of all volunteers are able to pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards.  The soldier guarding the tomb does not wear rank insignia so as not to outrank the Unknowns, whatever their ranks may have been.  The duties of the sentinels are not just ceremonial.  They will confront people who cross the barriers at the tomb or who are disrespectful or loud.

For more information, visit: or Arlington National Cemetery.

The Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns have a saying that "soldiers never die until they are forgotten."  Let's make sure Memorial Day is a time when we always remember.

Even if you can't make the time on Memorial Day Weekend ... I know it can be a busy time for families this year we had a cousin's wedding and nephew's birthday party going on ... you take a memory trip during the year and respectfully post your thoughts/photos on social media and share them in real life with neighbors, friends and family on Memorial Day to help keep the spirit of this holiday and our fallen warriors alive.

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