Memorial Pearls

Over the book of time, Memorial Day changed. Did you know that originally it was known as Decoration Day? The day was set aside on May 30, 1868, to honor sacrifices of Civil War soldiers according to a proclamation by General John A. Logan who represented Union soldiers.

When World War I took over public consciousness, the focus shifted from commemorating those killed on Civil War battlefields to all men and women who died while fighting for the United States. In 1971 the day became a national holiday and the date switched to the last Monday in May.

But I find the earlier switching from the original “Declaration Day” to be the stories worth noting. It turns out that General Logan was aware of an annual memorial time in the South that began in 1866 by the Ladies Memorial Association. Four women in Columbus, Mississippi (a burial site for both Union and Confederate soldiers) decorated the graves of the dead. “…one of the women spontaneously suggested that they decorate the graves of the Union as well as the Confederate dead, as each grave contained someone’s father, brother or son. A lawyer in Ithaca, New York, Francis Miles Finch, read about this reconciliatory gesture and wrote a poem about the ceremony in Columbus, ‘The Blue and the Gray,’ which The Atlantic Monthly published in 1867…From the silence of sorrowful hours / The desolate mourners go / Lovingly laden with flowers / Alike for the friend and the foe….”  

A more poignant story predates the dear Ladies. A friend corrected my first version of this post. Actually, the earliest tribute was held May 1, 1965, by thousands of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. Adults and children paid tribute to 257 deceased Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave. The fact that this story is not a part of our collective knowledge about Memorial Day is troubling.  

Yes, every life represents someone’s grandfather, father, brother, son–or someone’s grandmother, mother, sister, daughter. We are family, all of us on the planet, including those who support Russian or Ukrainian soldiers. Sorrowful hours accompany far too many of us these days.

Reconciliation is what we need more of in these turbulent times. Today, Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery are given respect just like the Union soldiers. All 228,000 graves receive an American flag on Memorial (Decoration) Day in the tradition known as “Flags In.”

Let’s use the inclusive “Flags In” as a rallying call for our country. It is time that we come together. When we have to decorate commemorative killing sites at grocery stores, churches, and elementary schools for innocent victims of war-style weapons, it is time to make big changes in our beloved country.

We all must take a stand this time. I applaud Steve Kerr, NBA coach and gun-violence survivor, as well as Fred Guttenberg, father of a slain high school student in Parkland Fl, for using their national platforms to make a difference. I have joined Kerr and Guttenberg in supporting the non-profit Brady: United Against Gun Violence.

Our bodymind health is on the line, yours and mine. If we do not promote gun safety this time, whose family will be next in line to decorate a grave?

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

86. Whose grave site(s) do you commemorate this Memorial Day?

87. What will you do to foster change in America?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. I wish there was a flag of peace. We fly the U.S. flag; I fly a flag of earth; why not promote the idea of peace? Small gesture, I know, but if millions of people world wide did so…….?


  2. There is a civil peace flag with the U.S. red stripes running vertically, not horizontally (check it out with Professor Google). However, you are right that we need a world-wide peace approach. We have the United Nations flag. Perhaps we start flying this flag alongside our American flag?


  3. Jan, your weekly Pearls are always thought-provoking and meaningful for me, not to mention your way of expressing your creative thoughts.

    I still treasure the card you made me at the time of Phil’s death 6 years ago. I have it near my bed along with other treasures and read it at least once a year.

    You recalled my bringing shells from Mary Oliver’s beach and decorated the card with a beautiful one.

    I will be in Kansas and will miss book group Monday. I’m sending you love ❤️ Nancy

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. As you wisely point out, Memorial Day makes us think of our beloved ones who have died, whether they were veterans or not. Sometimes it is the words of poets that carry us through grief. Mary Oliver says it best. Here is a tidbit from her poem, Mysteries, Yes: “…how people come, from delight or the scars of damage / to the comfort of a poem.”

    Liked by 1 person

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