I learned the Star Spangled Banner in grammar school right along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Our music lessons at McKenzie included folk music, rounds, spirituals, patriotic music and national anthems from ours as well as several other countries.
I loved all of it, but especially the service songs — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Chorales or Choruses from various branches of the service came to Florence in the 1950’s and the whole town turned out. The most popular movies were war stories from WWII, whether they were love stories, musicals, or dramas. When television arrived at our house, Victory at Sea became a favorite show.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, a solemn time to reflect, and to put flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. The day was first officially observed on May 30, 1868 to recognize servicemen who had died in the Civil War, but since WWI it has included servicemen and women killed in any conflict.
These days a lot of businesses will remain open, many featuring special “Start of the Summer” Memorial Day Sales. Some folks will take the day off and take advantage of those sales. Or they might picnic at the park or barbecue in the back-yard, enjoying a long week-end off from work.
It wasn’t always like that. When I was small nearly everything closed down on Memorial Day in honor of the men and women who had died in service of our country. Nevertheless, many churches will still include America The Beautiful in their Sunday worship services, and many remembrances will still be held at National Cemeteries from “sea to shining sea.”
In researching my daddy’s family tree, I discovered that in the late 1700’s Stephen Motte was granted a “patent” for land in the North Carolina coastal area for service in the Revolutionary War. He traded that land for a parcel in what became known as Mott’s Township, the territory around Olanta, South Carolina.
My great-great-grandfather John Motte served with Captain Zimmerman’s Pee Dee Artillery. Wounded in May of 1864, he spent time recovering in the Confederacy’s Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. His son David Motte, too young to be regular Army, became a teenage prison guard attached to the Confederate Army.
Some of Etta’s relatives had been Union soldiers during the Civil War, one fighting in several of the same battles in Virginia as John Motte. Charles and Etta’s first son Percy served in the US Army in WWI.
My father Harold Motte, Sr. enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1941, served several years and re-enlisted. He became a glider pilot and an aircraft mechanic. (See first photo above.)
Several of my mother’s brothers joined the Navy during WWII, Palmer becoming a career submariner. My brother Harold served in the Navy in the 1960’s, stationed on an ammunition ship in the Mediterranean Sea during the Six Days War.
Maybe it’s not politically correct nowadays, but every time I hear From the Halls of Montezuma or Anchors Away, my heart still flutters a bit and I recall my family’s centuries-long heritage of military service.
I hope that whether you have Memorial Day off from work or not, you’ll pause for a few moments and say a prayer for all those serving today, grateful that so many have been – and still are – willing to pay the price for our freedom to have a “holiday” such as Memorial Day.
(Reprinted from 2006.)