WVPA Sharing

Opinion: We can honor the soldiers for whom the bell tolled

Churches asked to ring bells 21 times on Memorial Day

By Patricia Richards Harris, president

Doddridge County Historical Society

Did you know that when word reached the home front announcing the end of WW2, the American people began ringing their church bells to express their total elation?  The deadly war which had taken thousands of their loved ones’ lives had finally ended after four long years for the Americans and even longer for Europe.  It meant those weary young soldiers fortunate enough to have survived the bloody ordeal would be coming home at last.  They were thrilled that once more, peace might replace the constant fear and sadness that hung over the large cities, urban communities, and the rural countryside.   

I was talking to my 94-year-old Aunt Minnie Jo in NC today, updating her about what was happening with our initiative, “Soldiers For Whom The Bells Tolled.”  She told me something I had never heard before.  She spoke of how the streets were alive with celebrations when they got the good news.  She laughed and said that she remembered her older sister, Ruth (also my aunt), ran to retrieve the family washtub and took it to the street to beat.  She might not have had a bell, but she could still make some noise and do her part.  That filled my heart with pride.  What a time it must have been when patriotism was viewed as a good thing.   

As you can tell from the front-page article, the D.C. Historical Society is supporting an initiative to honor our Killed-In-Action (KIA), Died-Of-Wounds (DOW), Died-Of-Disease (DOD), and our Veterans who came home to us, but have now gone to their eternal rest.  We are inviting all churches to join us by ringing their bells twenty-one (21) times on May 29th at exactly 11:15 a.m. eastern standard time to the rhythm of the 21-Gun-Salute.  We have chosen this time because it follows our local VFW’s beautiful ceremony at the Veteran Memorial Wall on the D.C. Courthouse front lawn, which is held every year.  Commander Ferguson said that the ceremony should be completed by 11 a.m. and that 11:15 was a good time for the bells to toll.    

When we began this initiative, we hoped to get participation from at least some of the churches throughout our county (Doddridge).  Imagine our delight when we started receiving word that churches in other counties were going to join us in this single act of love and respect for all the soldiers who served in our military and were killed-in-action, as well as our Veterans who came home but have now passed on.  It was an even greater surprise when we found that churches from all over the United States began joining us. It seemed like a perfect time for the church bells to toll.  We could not imagine that we might have churches all over the Nation joining us.  It is such a beautiful thing.  

We now have churches who have pledged to join us in 16 states, and the numbers are growing larger daily.  As of this writing, those states include AL, CA, DC, FL, GA, KY, MD, NC, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WV. 

If you have a family member, or a friend living in a different county, state, or even country, we invite you to ask them to join our initiative by asking their local churches to ring their bells twenty-one times on May 29th at 11:15 a.m. eastern standard time.  It is a day of remembrance… Let’s let them know we not only remember them, but we are signifying that love and respect publicly with the ringing of the church bells.   

While today, we remember all our loved ones on Memorial Day, it wasn’t always that way.  That important day began as a day of remembrance for our KIA soldiers and veterans who had departed.   I wrote an article on this subject several years ago, and it deserves repeating:

On May 29th, many Americans will visit the graves of their loved ones who have passed on.   Most of us can still remember our parents and grandparents going from one cemetery to another to place flowers on the graves of loved ones as a form of remembrance and respect.  There was usually a picnic lunch brought along, as it was usually an all-day event.  We would meet neighbors and relatives at the cemeteries with whom we visited a while before moving on to the next cemetery, knowing that we might not see them again until the next year if fate was kind. There was a sense of honor in what we were doing.  It was something we now older adults would never forget.

This observance was initially called Decoration Day.  It was first practiced three years after the American Civil War on May 5, 1868, when the head of the organization of Union Veterans (Grand Army of the Republic or GAR) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers and small American flags.  It was Major Gen. John A. Logan who declared that it should be observed on May 30th, and so it was.

Although the first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, local areas throughout America had already been honoring their Civil War dead since 1866.

After WWI, Decoration Day included the honoring of the Nation’s war dead from all American Wars.

Decoration Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971.  At that time, the date for the observance was placed on the last Monday in May.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are and whatever they are doing at 3 p.m. local time for one minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to our great nation.  As Moment of Remembrance founder, Carmella LaSpada, once said, “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.

May we never forget those who sacrificed all to ensure our right to be, think, say, and do as we wish, provided it does not infringe on these same rights of others.  We owe these fallen heroes a debt that we know we can never repay.  The very least we can do is remember them and live our lives in a manner that honors their sacrifice.

May God bless this great nation for which they freely gave their lives.  In closing, I can only reiterate what I have already said.  We, the people of this nation, owe these fallen heroes a debt that can never be repaid.  We know this.  The very least we can do is remember them on this day.  May we never forget the cost in human life for keeping us safe and free.  Let us never forget that freedom is not and never will be free. They died protecting that freedom for us.

God Bless.

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