What is Memorial Day Anyway?

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He did not die in combat but he deserves our thanks anyway, right?

Memorial Day is a day of remembering our men and women who died while serving (vs. Veteran’s day) in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.  It originated after the American Civil War (in which close to 500,000 people died) to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war.   By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service even though Veteran’s Day is the official holiday that honors all those who served in the U.S. military.

Here are some ways to talk about it with your kids:

1.  Thank a Vet (you can do this anytime, not just on Memorial Day).  Download a postcard from The National Constitution Center or make your own and mail it.  It’s good to practice gratitude!

2.  For little guys, try reading Memorial Day Surprise.  It is a sweet story about a child who goes to a parade and enjoys all sorts of fun things, including the big surprise, his grandfather who is a veteran, marching in the parade.

3.  For older kids (and, heck, adults) use this lesson plan from the National Constitution Center to think about the day.  I especially like it because it asks some really good questions about war and sacrifice.

It also includes this poem, which you can use by itself with younger kids as well:

(The Flanders poppy was one of the few things to grow around the mud, graves and trenches of World War I when spring came.  John McCrae wrote the poem)

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That marks our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short day ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

What is this poem about?  What happened?  What is happy about the poem?  What parts are sad?  What do you think war is like after reading this poem?  What is your favorite part?  Why?

Do you know anyone who has served in the military?  Why did they do it?  What was it like?

For more on the poem or the poet, go here.

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