Decoration Day


“Grandpa, why are you wearing that red plastic flower on your shirt?” Mikey pointed to a poppy on his grandfather’s breast pocket.

“It’s Memorial Day,” Grandpa said.

“Mikey flopped on the floor in front of Grandpa’s chair. “I know. No school today.”

“Memorial Day is more than that. I wear this flower in honor of those who died serving our country during war.” Grandpa crossed his legs.

Mikey stood with his hands on his hips. “No, Grandpa. Memorial Day is about hot dogs, hamburgers and barbeque. School is almost over and summer is about to begin.”

Grandpa pushed himself from his chair. “You like parades?”

“Oh boy,” said Mikey. “I sure do.”

“Good,” Grandpa said. He grabbed his jacket. “There’s one in Waterloo. Let’s go!”

As Grandpa drove his car, Mikey asked, “How did Memorial Day get started?”

Grandpa turned onto the highway. “Have you studied about the Civil War in 4th grade?”

“Sure,” said Mikey. “We just had a test on the War Between the States in Social Studies. That was when Abraham Lincoln was president.”

“Right. After the war, a pharmacist named Henry Welles went to a parade.”

“Like the one we’re going to?”

“Not exactly. His parade welcomed home Civil War soldiers. Anyway, he got to thinking about those soldiers who didn’t make it back home.”

“You mean the ones who died, right Grandpa?”

“Yes. Mr. Welles wanted an important day set aside to remember those who didn’t make it back alive.”

Grandpa turned off the parkway and followed the signs into town.  “You see that sign?” he asked.


“This was where Henry Welles lived. Back then, they called this day Decoration Day.”

“Why?” asked Mikey.

“It was the custom to decorate every soldier’s grave with flowers,” Grandpa said.

Mikey’s eyes widened. “That’s why you wear that rose bud.”

Grandpa nodded and parked the car. “Due to Henry Welles’ efforts, the first Decoration Day was May 30, 1868. Now, let’s go see the parade.”

Mikey sat on the curb waving an American flag while Grandpa stood beside him. Soldiers marched by. One sat upon a white horse wearing a blue uniform. He waved his hat and saluted Mikey.

A drum and bugle corps, led by an Indian princess, passed followed by soldiers home from the War in Iraq. When the parade finished, three jet planes flew overhead.

As Mikey and Grandpa returned to their car, Mikey asked, “What happens next?”

“We’re going to the cemetery to honor your uncle.” Grandpa wiped a tear from his eye. “He died in the First Gulf War when you were just a baby.”

As they drove back onto the highway, Mikey asked, “When did Decoration Day become Memorial Day?”

“Good question,” said Grandpa. “That didn’t happen until 1971 when Congress passed the National Holiday Act. They wanted to make sure every national holiday had a three day weekend.”

“So that’s why I don’t have school today,” said Mikey.

At the cemetery, Grandpa pulled a wreath from his car’s trunk. Mikey carried it to a tombstone, which said, “Here lays David Siegel. Devoted son and loving brother. He died for his country.

Grandpa said a prayer. Walking from the grave, he blew his nose and returned to the car.

Mikey turned around on his seat and stared out the back window. Gravestones passed like soldiers standing in columns.

He plopped back into the seat. “I’m hungry, Grandpa.”

“Me too. I hear your dad is making hamburgers, frankfurters, and barbeque chicken.”

“Yeah!” said Mikey.

Author –Michael L. Thal


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