May 26, 2014 was the 150th anniversary of the day three women, two teenagers, Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie Keller, and a middle-aged mother, Elizabeth Myers, placed flowers on each grave of Boalsburg, Pa.’s Civil War soldiers. Sophie’s father, Dr. Ruben Hunter, died of typhoid in the Union Army. Elizabeth’s son, Amos, was killed in action at the Battle of Gettysburg a year earlier.
On May 5, 1868, Major General John Logan issued General Order 11 declaring May 5, 1868, Decoration Day, a day for the nation to use flowers to decorate the graves of our war dead. There are about 20 communities on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1966 Congress and President Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the birthplace of Memorial Day. Do the math — 1864 comes before 1866.
May 1915 Canadian Major John Mc Crae, a battalion medical doctor, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” An American woman, Moina Michael, was inspired to write the following poem.
“We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on field where valor led.
It seems so signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.”
Moina began selling poppies in America. By 1922 the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, took over the task of selling poppies. 1924 was the first year disabled veterans made poppies for the VFW to sell. Each year a couple of days before Memorial Day, VFW members begin selling poppies to help disabled veterans.
Norman Rockwell painted a number of popular illustrations for the cover of the weekly magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. On May 29, 1943, Memorial Day, the cover of the Saturday Evening Post had Rockwell’s image of “Rosie the Riveter.” Rosie was a full figured woman dressed in a blue shirt and blue jeans. She had her name on her lunch pail. There was an American flag in the background. A rivet gun was on her lap. Rosie’s penny loafers were resting on a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, his manifesto. The cover became so popular it was loaned to the U.S. Treasury Department to sell war bonds to finance the War. In 2002 a private collector bought the original painting of Rosie the Riveter for $5 million!
In late 1942 a petite 19-year-old Vermont telephone operator was paid $10 (equivalent to $136 in 2015) to pose for a photographer. Mary Doyle was a telephone operator and the model for Rosie. Rockwell preferred to paint from photographs rather than live models. Mary married Robert J. Keefe in 1949. Mary Doyle Keefe was 92 years young when she passed away about five weeks ago, April 21, 2015.
Rosie became the symbol of the American “Can Do” attitude. While our boys were fighting on the “war front,” Rosie and the millions of women like her welded a complete liberty ship in seven days, riveted planes, oiled steam locomotives or any number of jobs as part of the “Arsenal of Democracy” on the “home front.” Without millions of Rosies, our boys would not have had what they needed to defeat Germany and Japan on the “war front.”
At 3 p.m. on Monday, May 25, Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance, encourages all Americans to pause for a moment of silence and honor those who have died in service to our nation.
Camilla LaSpada, the founder of Moment of Silence, says, “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
Set your Smart phone to buzz you at 3 p.m. on May 25. If you are technology challenged, have a friend call you at 2:59 p.m. to remind you. Be generous with your 60 seconds while saying, “Thank you.” We stand on the shoulders of past generations.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.