With Memorial Day approaching, Anna and James M. Harnish of Fairview this week decorated their son’s grave at St. Paul’s Church Cemetery near Clear Spring.
The couple placed flowers, a cross and a pinwheel in memory of their son, James L. Harnish, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Germany in the 1960s. He died in 2007.
“It signifies remembrance,” she said. “Growing up, always on Memorial Day, we’d bring real flowers to the soldiers’ graves.”
Michael Arant of Leetown, W.Va., was at Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg on Friday morning, placing flowers on the graves of his family members, including a cousin of his mother who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
“It’s an elegant way to remember those who went before us,” said Arant, 63. “It ties us to the past.”
The park now uses flags and wreaths to decorate the graves, but Antietam National Battlefield Park Ranger Keith Snyder said people still use flowers.
“They often decorate their own family’s graves with flowers,” he said. “The national cemetery here actually has veterans from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, so some of the World War II veterans’ families will decorate those graves.”
The Memorial Day tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves dates to 1868, when Maj. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day to decorate the graves of dead soldiers from the Civil War with flowers, according to a document on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website at www.va.gov.
Logan declared that Decoration Day should be May 30, possibly because flowers would be blooming across the country during that time. After World War I, the holiday expanded to honor those who died in all American wars, and in 1971, Memorial Day, which now falls on the last Monday in May, was declared a national holiday.
Members of Joseph C. Herbert American Legion Post 222 in Clear Spring and the American Legion Auxiliary in Clear Spring placed American flags at the grave site of every known fallen soldier in the Clear Spring area, said Kenny Clopper, chaplain of Post 222.
“We, as members of the post, try to decorate the graves of all the veterans that we know of in the Clear Spring family,” he said.
More than 500 graves are decorated, Clopper said, and the flags remain there until Independence Day.
The legion will hold its annual Memorial Day tribute Sunday at 10:45 a.m. at Little Rose Hill Cemetery to honor Joseph C. Herbert, who was killed in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, as a member of the U.S. Army Air Force and for whom the legion is named, Clopper said. He added he does not know the details of Herbert’s death, but described him as a “big deal” to the post.
“There used to be a lot of Clear Spring people who knew Joseph Herbert,” he said.
There also will be a church service Sunday at 9:15 a.m. at St. John’s United Church of Christ, where Herbert was a member.
The Christian Ardinger Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution also will have a grave decoration ceremony for Christian Ardinger, a private in the American Revolution for whom the chapter is named, said Paul Banister, president of the chapter.
He added that he hopes to start a rotation every Memorial Day of decorating a grave site in Washington County of a soldier from the American Revolution.
“It symbolizes the debt of gratitude our generation has for the sacrifices of our forefathers to make us a free country,” he said.