Students learn meaning of Memorial Day

WILTON – Memorial Day has become just “another long weekend,” and the original meaning is being lost, according to Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. John Yurcak.

Yurcak, who was the guest speaker at a Florence Rideout Elementary School program on Friday morning, outlined the history of the day for the assembled students.

After the Civil War, he said, “John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans’ organization) ordered a day of remembrance and graves of both North and South were decorated with flowers.”

At first known as Decoration Day, it did not become a national holiday until after World War I.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” poppies became a symbol of the day and were sold to raise funds for needy servicemen, as they still are, but now artificial poppies are used.

In 1971, Congress changed the date from the traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May, “to make it another long weekend,” Yurcak said, “for cookouts and to go shopping.”

This weekend, he said, more than 230,000 flags make it another long weekend,” Yurcak said, “for cookouts and to go shopping.”

This weekend, he said, more than 230,000 flags will be placed on graves in Arlington National Cemetery, and 15,300 candles will be placed on graves near the Civil War Battlefield in Spotsylvania, Va. Both North and South are honored.

He also noted the war memorials in Wilton. “How often do we drive by them without thinking about what they mean?”

Yurcak is a Wilton resident who serves in Nashua as a police officer.

In opening the 40-minute program, the school chorus sang “This is America,” and the flag was presented by a Boy Scout.

Angela Thomas recited a short history of Memorial Day from the first known observance of the day in 1866 in Waterloo, N.Y.

The fifth grade presented Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a choral recitation, a very moving presentation with solo parts given by Erika Nichols, Madeline Johnson and Theresa Shea. Alexandra Bosquet presented an introduction.

Three student guitarists accompanied the student body in singing “This Land is Your Land,” and four recorder players accompanied “Yankee Doodle.”

The students also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America,” and “America the Beautiful.”

Fifth-grade trumpet player Chris Hammond closed the ceremonies with “Taps.”

Yurcak said, “On Monday, at 3 p.m., a nationwide moment of silence will be held to recall and reflect” on departed service people.

“Take a small amount of time from the cookouts and the shopping and having fun to think about this,” he said.

The program was coordinated by music teacher Sharon Knotts. She said the school had not presented a program in recent memory because of time conflicts.

They had planned to also do a rendition of “In Flanders Fields” but did not have time to prepare it.

The program was attended by many parents.

Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or