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HIGH SPRINGS – For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend to travel, enjoy the outdoors or party. The original meaning of the holiday may be acknowledged, but oftentimes little is done to honor it during their weekend plans. Locally, the springs were packed with people enjoying a weekend outside after a month of stay-at-home restrictions, and for many, that was the main focus for the holiday weekend.

For others, the true meaning of Memorial Day carries a more somber quality.  Memorial Day is one of three holidays designated to honor the men and women who serve in our military. We celebrate Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May to honor those currently serving. On Nov. 11, which was the day World War I ended, we honor all veterans who served their country in the past on Veterans Day. On the last Monday in May we remember those who served and did not return, as well as those who came back but have since passed. This is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Since the Revolutionary War, over 1,355,000 have made the supreme sacrifice for their country and the values they cherished. Every community has lost some of its youth to war and many families have lost a slice of their future. In many towns, there is a monument or statue to those who paid the ultimate price in some conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic put lives into a period of isolation. To try and contain the spreading virus, it was necessary to issue stay-at-home orders for over a month. All events over 10 people were canceled, so all the traditional ceremonies for Memorial Day didn't happen. While the state partially reopened last week, there are still restrictions on crowd size and social distancing for any event, and many people are still cautious about going out in crowds.

But some local businesses and organizations wanted to make sure those who made the sacrifice were honored despite the restrictions. The High Springs Ace hardware gave free small American flags to all customers on Monday to place at home, graves or memorials, such as the High Springs Veterans Memorial next to City Hall.

The monument was built in 1980 by American Legion Post 97, which used to be in High Springs but is no longer active. On one side of the six-foot granite monument, which is shaped like a headstone, there is a tribute to all of those veterans who have fought in war. The other side contains the names of High Springs residents who answered the call to arms but never returned. The High Springs Lions Club and the Military Vets MC club help maintain the monument and hold ceremonies to honor the veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to social distance, this year the ceremony was canceled due to crowd size and health concerns for some of the older participants. The Lions Club did set up a station at the monument and give out free flags and silk poppy flowers that were donated by the Newberry American Legion Post 149 to place at the monument.

The poppy as a symbol for fallen soldiers dates back to a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian officer who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit in World War I. After witnessing the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres, which left 124,000 men dead, wounded or missing, McCrae wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae was struck by the contrast of the pretty red poppies that sprouted on the battlefield where so much death had occurred. The poppy became a symbol for fallen soldiers. McCrae himself did not survive the war, dying near the end in 1918.

In America, the tradition dates back to the American Legion Auxiliary's first National Convention in the early 1920s when the red poppy was adopted as The American Legion Family's memorial flower. On Sunday and Monday members of the High Springs Lions Club tended to the monument for six hours to give people a chance to place a flag of remembrance at the granite monument.

Over 30 people came during the course of the two days, many doing it in honor of a family member who served. On Monday an older couple stopped by. They have come every year to honor a particular fallen soldier. They brought a beer and a Dixie cup to place on the monument along with the flag and poppy. Asked why they left a beer, they responded, “It's who he was and how he would want us pay tribute to him with a toast.”

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