Memorial Day weekend holds many memories for Americans. It originated in the years following the Civil War as a way to honor the soldiers who died on both sides of the conflict. Originally known as Decoration Day, it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971. Cities and towns across the country honor those who gave their “last full measure” in defending the United States of America. We also celebrate with picnics, barbecues, and marking the unofficial beginning of summer.
It’s a great holiday. But the core of it is the lives given and the lives changed in defense of our country. In my book, I talk about The Veterans Appreciation Program at St. Mary. The program was started in 2015 and the volunteers and crafters were asked to take part in an initiative to thank our in-patients who were veterans or active-duty military. The Healing Environments volunteers created blankets made from fleece imprinted with American flags, stars, and red, white, and blue designs. They also made neck roll pillows using the same fleece. The crocheters made afghans in red, white, and blue. Some, like the one pictured, were “Old Glory” creations.
The volunteers who visited these patients were former military men and women. Our veteran volunteers were able to express their own and the hospital’s heartfelt appreciation to those who gave so much in the defense of our homeland. Sometimes, the conversations helped heal wounds of a non-physical nature.
Jim, a volunteer, and Vietnam Vet found a unique way to connect. “I know every veteran I greet gave of themselves to help keep our country safe and strong. I also have an immediate rapport with Vietnam Vets who got the worst deal. We were humiliated and deprived of the honor and respect normally afforded returning soldiers. It gives me a special sense of accomplishment to be able to visit with these guys and finally express our gratitude to them.”
Another volunteer and vet, Bob C. underscores this sentiment. Most of the time the patient is happy and grateful for the blanket or other comfort item. But on occasion, the gift is a catalyst for strong emotions. Bob recalled the time he gave a military blanket to another Vietnam vet, a big guy. He thanked the man in the bed for his service. The former soldier looked at Bob with tears in his eyes, “Nobody ever gave me anything for serving over there or ever thanked me.” 40 years after the conflict ended, this man had never received any form of gratitude. The blanket meant so much more than he could adequately express.
Not all conversations were emotional, but all were meaningful. The volunteers were able to spend time with these men and women. They listened to their stories and shared their thoughts. Memorial Day is a special time. We honor those who died in battle, and who served. We owe so very much to those the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for our freedoms.
For more information about the history of Memorial Day, go to: https://www.history.com/news/world-war-i-poppy-remembrance-symbol-veterans-day.