We observe Memorial Day each year. It is a federal holiday designated to remember the people who died while serving in our armed forces. It is observed every year on the last Monday of May and originated as Decoration Day in 1868.


The tradition at that time was to decorate the graves of the Union war dead and eventually graves of soldiers from various conflicts. It also marks the unofficial summer vacation season. As a country, it also is the weekend when every furniture store on the planet has a sale. I guess it’s because we have an extra Monday to shop.


How do we honor the 1.8 million who gave their lives for America since 1775? How do we thank them for their sacrifice? I believe Memorial Day is at least one way and one day we can remember.


How many of you remember poppies and Memorial Day?


Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.


Other traditional observances included wearing red poppies, visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes, and visiting memorials.


When I was a kid, I remember many of the adults wearing red paper poppies around Memorial Day. I didn’t really get it at the time and I haven’t seen them on anyone in many years.


It is almost impossible to understand 1.8 Americans making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


The only person I knew who died in a war was a man named Pryor Wheat. He was a friend of my brother who served in Vietnam. My brother also served in Vietnam, but was fortunate enough to come home.


I met Pryor Wheat when I visited my brother at Ouachita Baptist College when I was in junior high school. I only met him briefly but never forgot him for some reason.


When my brother later told me he had died, I never forgot that either, and only this week I looked at those listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, containing the names of 58,253 mostly young Americans including 588 Arkansans. This is the listing about Lieutenant Wheat on the website:


Age: 23


Race: Caucasian


Sex: Male


Date of Birth Mar 19, 1944


From: HELENA, AR


Religion: PRESBYTERIAN


Marital Status: Married


Date of Casualty: 9/6/1967


Lt. Pryor Wheat was killed while attempting to rescue fellow soldiers from a downed helicopter. It blew up, taking his and others’ lives.


The startling thing to me now is his age. He was 23 years old and was married shortly before being sent to Vietnam. And to think, there are 1.8 million other stories of mostly younger American men who never got to live their lives, have a career, watch their children grow up and enjoy the fruits of their service.


Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years and many Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of the day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored or neglected.


Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Maumelle continues a proud tradition on Memorial Day Monday (see below).


God bless you Lt. Pryor Wheat and your massive legion of slain brothers and sisters.


I know none of us will forget those who were part of our lives, if only briefly.


Memorial Day Service at Lake Willastein


There will be a Memorial Day Service at Lake Willastein at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 29. Several groups and city officials will take part, including Mayor Mike Watson, City Council members John Vaprezsan, Terry Williams and Marc Kelly, and members of the Maumelle Fire Department.


Bubba Beason, CMSgt.*, USAF (Ret) will be the featured speaker and is also responsible for bringing in the “field of flags” display, already on display. Academics Plus students Elizabeth Lackey and Keegan Wiley will perform “Taps” to end the ceremony. I’ll see you there and…


On the Boulevard.


*Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) is the ninth, and highest, enlisted rank in the U.S. Air Force, just above Senior Master Sergeant, and is a senior non-commissioned officer rank. The official term is “Chief Master Sergeant” or “Chief”.


Neal Moore is a public relations and advertising consultant and freelance writer. If you have a community concern, news tip or if you’re just irritated about something, contact him at neal.moore@sbcglobal.net. Follow him on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter, @kneelmore.