As Memorial Day, or what was once known as Decoration Day, approaches, various thoughts come to mind.
It has been said that many years ago, two women were placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers of the South at Gettysburg. While on their mission, they chanced upon the graves of some members of the Union Army, Apparently of sympathetic minds, they decided to decorate thew resting place of those who had been the enemy, saying they were once someone’s moved ones. Thus the founding of Decoration Day.
In due time, parades were held in cities and towns, with veterans’ markers decorated and honored; respect was given with glory. Now? Much time has passed and parades are shortened as veterans and attendees grow older. But still, the day is meant for honoring those who lived and died for their country.
In later years, during and after WWII, Gold Star Mothers — those who had lost their cherished ones — were given special honor for such losses. During that era in North Andover, there was a building known as Merrimack Hall, standing where St. Michael’s parking lot now sits.
I remember those fellows who were stationed at what was then Camp Devens. They came to town and following a trek up to Ridgewood Cemetery and a service, they were welcomed back at the hall for cold drinks, food and sociability. As impressionable girls, my friends and I were wide-eyed at the handsome boys and men gathering there!
How might any of us have imagined that in the distant future, we would have daughters who met and married soldiers at Fort Devens, those participating in yet another war? How could I have envisioned that my own son, yet unborn, would one day join the Navy and later, at a very young age, himself be buried at Ridgewood? Or that my future son-in-law, a young man hailing from California, a member of the U.S. Army, would also rest on a knoll in the same place?
Sometimes, I feel that it is sad and even ironic that a day of honor such as Decoration Day has become for many just another day off from work and a time for festive activity. Things were very different when my husband and I were raising our family — during the 1950s. I remember my father constructing our flag pole, raising the Stars and Stripes and then lowering the flag at the end of the day. He was recalling events from decades back, when three of his own family served in the Union Army Corps, one of whom was a young drummer boy — a long time ago, but still — we were taught to remember!
As the holiday approaches, it is hoped that people will pause and reflect on the meaning and special significance of “Memorial/Decoration Day.”
Mary M. Eaton-Crawford is a North Andover resident and an amateur historian who enjoys researching and sharing memories about New England and the Merrimack Valley. She recently turned 94.