Today is Memorial Day. Originally called Decoration Day, it is a United States holiday observed annually on the last Monday of May to remember those who have died while in our nation’s military service. It was first enacted in 1868 to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. Southern states chose to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I, at which time the holiday was expanded to include all military personnel who died in a war.
Walt Disney chose to honor American service men and women past and present with ongoing contributions to the United States military. Although he himself did not serve in the armed forces, he possessed a great sense of patriotism and duty to his country. When two of his three older brothers went off to fight in World War I, Walt “just had to get in there” with them. However, he was too young. Determined to do his part, Walt and a friend joined the American Red Cross. Of course, they had to forge their birth dates in order to get in, and by the time Walt arrived in Europe, the war had ended.
In his work with the Red Cross, Walt served the troops. He ran errands for the hospital and shuttled the workers back and forth, he gathered commissary provisions and chauffeured dignitaries, and he lightened spirits by adorning ambulance panels, battle helmets, and canteen menus with hand-drawn sketches. He also created caricatures for his fellow enlistees to send home to their families. Walt charged a fee for the pictures—the early beginnings of an art career.
Walt’s passion for both art and his country has produced significant contributions to this nation’s military insignia. He and his animators designed this Flying Tigers emblem, this female gremlin named Fifinella for a Houston, Texas, training detachment, and this design for the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California. [Photos as appeared in Spring 2010 USO publication, On Patrol.] In 1948, Walt and his team designed the Toys for Tots train logo that is still used today.
Walt Disney Studios also produced a number of promotional reels, war bond advertisements, and training films related to the World War II effort, and for a time, ceased production on regular animated features in order to dedicate time and talent to again serve his country.
The Walt Disney Company continues avid support of the United States Military. According to an article, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World,” by Jeremy Borden, featured in the Spring 2010 issue of On Patrol, the Company supports the Toys for Tots Foundation, provides care packages through Operation Disney Care to service members and their families, encourages Cast Member participation in the Disney VoluntEARS program, and sends postcards to troops stationed around the globe through Operation Uplift. Also, the worldwide outreach program of the Walt Disney Company and its affiliates, DisneyHand, provides financial aid and support for the United Service Organization (USO), helping it to produce quality programs and services for members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.
To help remind Americans of the significance of Memorial Day, President Bill Clinton passed the National Moment of Remembrance resolution on May 2, 2000, which asks all Americans “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’” at 3:00 p.m. local time.
Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. They patrol twenty-four hours a day during the holiday weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In St. Louis, Missouri, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts place flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. On the Saturday before the observed Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.
In response to the John McCrae poem, “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael wrote in 1915:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
She decided to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those fallen soldiers. The tradition continues today through the Buddy Poppy program.
You can observe and pay respects to those who gave their lives in service to our country. Show your appreciation and prove their lives were not given in vain by honoring them in a way similar to the examples above. Many national cemeteries already have programs in place, but smaller local ones may not. Visit the military section of a cemetery in your area. Seek permission from the administration to put out a token of your respect at each of the gravesites. If you’d prefer not to tend the sites personally, ask if the caretaker can place your donations for you.
Some inexpensive ideas include:
• Lay a red, white, or blue carnation on each gravestone. You can die them yourself by adding food color to water in a vase and allowing the flowers to soak the color up through the stem for a day.
• Purchase a bulk package of small American flags and deposit them at the gravesites.
• Acquire Buddy Poppies from a local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post. As they are small and would likely blow away if left graveside, distribute them to friends and neighbors and encourage them to honor the fallen this Memorial Day.
SCHOOL SUBJECT: History
SKILL LEVEL: All