Honoring our heroes by placing flags in front of veterans’ gravesites is part of my Gettysburg Memorial Day tradition. But remembering the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers isn’t something that should be done just one day a year.

Just a few short years ago, we were losing our WWII veterans at a tremendous rate (and still are). Now we are losing our Vietnam/Korea veterans as well.

If you get a chance, shake the hand of a veteran and thank them for their service. That is a custom common on Veterans’ Day in November, but these heroes are national treasures, and we shouldn’t wait until they are gone to honor them.

“In eternal memory of those who stood for God and country.”

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Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade Is Longstanding Tradition

Gettysburg is a patriotic town that offers plenty of opportunities to honor our fallen throughout the year, but Memorial Day is special in many ways.

It’s notable that the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade is one the country’s oldest continual-running parades in the country. Started in 1867, the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade features flags of the past and present, current and past military members, prominent speakers, reenactors and musical performances.

People wearing red, white and blue, and waving American flags stand along the parade route to show their patriotism and pride.

Flags placed on the gravesites of the fallen at the National Cemetery as part of Gettysburg Memorial Day activities..

American flags are placed on the gravesites of fallen Civil War soldiers at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. A program is held here every year after the Gettysburg Memorial Day parade.

The Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade ends with a service held at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in front of the Soldiers National Monument.

It’s special to be able to honor “those who gave their lives that the Nation might live,” when standing on the grounds of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle.

The 155th Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade in 2022 starts at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 30, and the program at the cemetery begins at 3 p.m. This grand tradition is the perfect way to remember and honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.

The Honorary Grand Marshall for this year’s Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade is Helen Sajer, president and founder of Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, Inc.

Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade Route

The Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade starts on Lefever Street in Gettysburg, heads northeast to East Middle Street, turns west on East Middle Street and south on Baltimore Street to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

The Memorial Day Ceremony takes place at 3 p.m. at the Rostrum in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The Keynote Speaker at the Gettysburg Memorial Day program in the cemetery is Major General Mark J. Schindler, who is serving as The Adjutant General of Pennsylvania.

Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery Honors Our Fallen

American flags fluttering in the breeze can be seen in just about every cemetery in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where Gettysburg is the county seat.

Author Jessica James places flags on the graves of veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery.

Placing flags on the graves of Revolutionary War veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery outside Gettysburg, for Memorial Day.

I have the tremendous privilege of placing flags on the gravesites at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery outside of Gettysburg for Memorial Day. This cemetery is one of the oldest and largest frontier colonial cemeteries in Adams County.

One of the bronze markers that are placed on the graves of veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery.

One of the bronze markers that are placed on the graves of Civil War veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery.

The need for such a cemetery began with the Indian treaty of 1736, which opened up the lands west of the Susquehanna River to colonization. Following the treaty between the Indians and the Penn family, large numbers of Scots-Irish Presbyterians began to cross the river and settle in the Marsh Creek area.

The Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery is a beautiful, secluded resting place for those who served from our country’s very beginning. Placing the flags gives me time to reflect on their sacrifice and to honor their memory in a small way.

This cemetery  is the final resting place for 39 Revolutionary War soldiers, as well as 8 from the War of 1812; 15 from the Civil War; 5 from WWII; and 9 from Vietnam/Korea.

The Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery is located on the same site where a wooden church once stood. The church was built in 1748 just west of Marsh Creek in what was then York County. The first known burial in the cemetery was John Kerr, who died January 28, 1749.

In 1790, the congregation chose a new site to worship several miles away near “The Great Road.” (Fairfield Road/Route 116)

The structure was built in a grove of giant oaks, near a spring in the vale, and was constructed from stones the congregation brought to the property from various nearby farms.

The church still stands and is still used for regular worship services today, more than 230 years later.

The Lower Marsh Creek Church was built in 1790 and still holds services today.

The Lower Marsh Creek Church was built in 1790 and still holds services today.

In 2005, a physical count was made of the old section of the Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery, in which 674 known burials were found.

As a way of honoring our heroes, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a bronze marker in 1990, listing the names of the veterans who served in the Revolution.

Memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried in Lower Marsh Creek Church.

Memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried in Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery. Flags are placed on the graves of veterans every year as part of Gettysburg Memorial Day activities.

Historians have noted that York County (including Adams County at the time), furnished more troops in the Continental Army under General George Washington than any other county of the 13 colonies.

Click Here For A Video Of Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery.

If you ever visit Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery, you will see that many of the black slate stones contain unusual and quaint epitaphs by renowned colonial stone engravers, including those from the Bigham families of the Marsh Creek area.

Many of the old slate gravestones depict the hardships of the frontier life and early deaths from diseases and accidents, portrayed by both words and symbols.

A Gettysburg Memorial Day I’ll Never Forget

On an exceedingly warm Memorial Day many years, I was in Gettysburg honoring our heroes and ended up at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Walking along the pathway around the cemetery, I turned into the burial area to read some of the flat stone markers.

There, in the first row, was a stone with the last name of my husband. Even more interesting, the soldier had served in a New York regiment, which is where he hails from. Of all of the thousands of graves in that cemetery, it was quite a surprise to stumble across that one.

But the coincidences that day didn’t stop there.

Memorial to Jennie Wade at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, he only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Memorial to Jennie Wade at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. She was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

We then drove over to the adjoining Evergreen Cemetery, where Jennie Wade is buried. Jennie was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg and I wanted to take a picture of her monument to go with a magazine article I was writing.

After getting a picture of her gravesite and driving slowly around the cemetery, I spotted a tombstone with MY last name. It also had a flag and a bronze marker that showed that this veteran had fought from 1861-1865.

What makes this even more strange is that I helped place flags on veterans’ graves in this cemetery for more than a dozen years. I had never done this particular section, which is why I’d never seen it before.

We left the cemetery in time to attend the beautiful Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade, and then rushed home to hop on ancestry.com. There I found that the soldier at Evergreen Cemetery was a great-great uncle. I also discovered that my great-grandfather on one side and great-great grandfather on the other, both fought with the 21st Pa. Cavalry, a fact that had never been passed down.

It’s so interesting how close we are to our own history, and sometimes don’t know it.

More About Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery is located adjacent to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery so some people mistakenly believe that it is owned by the National Park Service.

While it is old and has a rich history, it is a privately owned and operated cemetery. Established in 1854 by David McConaughy, a noted attorney in Gettysburg, Evergreen was created at a time when the Victorian rural cemetery movement was in vogue.

The idea behind this movement was that town cemeteries were more than just burial grounds. They were a place to talk to the deceased, honor them with flowers, and even enjoy an afternoon in a park-like setting. Cemeteries created during this time are beautifully landscaped properties that were developed to provide inspirational “green space” in cities.

The Evergreen Cemetery is also unique in that it witnessed live battle action. Because it is located on a rise (Cemetery Hill), it was instrumental during the Battle of Gettysburg. A Gettysburg Memorial Day is not complete without a visit to this cemetery.

One Union soldier wrote of Evergreen: “The once beautiful Evergreen Cemetery now presents a sad appearance…the ground about our guns was literally strewed with shot and shell; a few tombstones erected over the remains of beloved relations were thrown from their position or broken into fragments; graves were turned up by ploughing shot, and tasteful railings and other ornamental work around the lots were somewhat shattered.” 

Gettysburg Memorial Day: Honoring A Local Heroine

A seldom-told story about the Battle of Gettysburg is that burying those who fell during the deadly battle was done by a pregnant woman. (In the heat of July, no less).

Elizabeth Thorn was six months pregnant at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. With her husband off to war, she took on the role of superintendent and mother, burying nearly 100 Union soldiers’ remains in Evergreen as a way of honoring our heroes.

Today, there is a beautiful bronze statue of Elizabeth standing at Evergreen Cemetery. The monument serves as a memorial to her and all women who offered service and support during the battle and its aftermath.

A statue of Elizabeth Thorn at Evergreen Cemetery, who buried the dead after the Battle of Gettysburg.

A statue of Elizabeth Thorn at Evergreen Cemetery. She buried the dead after the Battle of Gettysburg while six months pregnant..

Another interesting fact about Evergreen Cemetery is that it was where the Gettysburg Address was given by President Lincoln.

Lincoln came to Gettysburg in November 1863 to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. His remarks at this dedication are now famously known as the Gettysburg Address. Because he was in town for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery ceremony, many assume that the speech was also delivered there. However, the platform where Lincoln delivered the speech was actually located in Evergreen Cemetery.

Evergreen Cemetery Part Of Gettysburg Memorial Day

Evergreen Cemetery is still a fully functioning cemetery with open lots available for burial. (It’s truly beautiful).

The Cemetery provides walking tours of the property to point out notable historical figures buried there. These include several Civil War soldiers, the Thorns, David McConaughy, Rev. Samuel S. Schmucker (the founder of Gettysburg College and Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary), and American poet Marianne Moore.

Honoring Our Heroes With Poppies

Do you know about National Poppy Day as a way of honoring our heroes?

Everyone has heard of Memorial Day, but Poppy Day is not as well known. It came about after World War I and continues to be commemorated on the Friday before Memorial Day.

The tradition began when weary soldiers brought home the memory of a stark landscape transformed by wild poppies, red as the blood that soaked the soil. Through this miracle of nature, it seemed that the spirit of their comrades lived on. The poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war—and the hope that they did not die in vain.

A field of red poppies. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day.

A field of red poppies. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day.

People worldwide now wear the poppy as a way to honor living veterans and those who lost their lives. The custom can be traced back to 1918 when Moina Michael popularized the idea of wearing a poppy flower in memory of the lives lost in WWI.

She drew inspiration from the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by WWI Col. John McCrae.

About Memorial Day

✔️ Memorial Day vs Veterans Day. Many people get these two days confused. On Memorial Day, the country remembers the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country. On Veterans Day in November, all soldiers who have served the USA are honored.

✔️ More than 50 million Americans have served in the military since 1776.

✔️ Ever wonder why we Memorial Day is held in May? One reason is that it is based off of Decoration Day in the South that started after the Civil War. Another reason is that May is a time when Nature is in bloom and there are plenty of flowers to place on graves.

✔️ On Memorial Day, the American flag is flown at half-mast until noon and then flown until sunset.

✔️ Guess what? Memorial Day is the most popular day to eat beef every year, followed by Independence Day and Labor Day, tied for second place.

✔️ A Memorial Day tradition is the “Indianapolis 500” car race.

If you plan on visiting Gettysburg, you may want to start with a self-guided tour. You may also want to check out the Best Time To Visit Gettysburg.

Wrap-Up Of Gettysburg Memorial Day

Whether you live in a small town like Gettysburg, a big city, or a remote part of the country, I hope you pause on Memorial Day to honor our fallen. We benefit from their sacrifices every time we exercise our constitutional rights.

These rights did not just “happen,” but were paid for by the blood of those who willingly risked their lives to protect ours, from the founding of our nation to today.

Memorial Day is a time to bear witness to the selflessness described in John 15:13 “greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Memorial Day quote