Born in 1909, my mother was raised on a farm near Hallock, Minn. By the time she was in her early 90s, she had acquired a sizable collection of memories. Threatened by then with failing eyesight, she decided it was time to share some of those experiences with the readership of a small magazine in Cannon Falls.
Mom, who is no longer with us, published several articles in that magazine. Here is one of them, relating her Memorial Day experiences in 1919, now 100 years ago:
Another Memorial Day has just passed as I write this in 2004, bringing back the memory of 1919 once again. Back then, the day for honoring veterans who had died in war was called Decoration Day — a day to decorate their graves, a custom instituted after the Civil War.
The Great War — The War to End All Wars — now known simply as World War I, had just ended in the autumn of 1918, claiming the lives of 126,000 United States soldiers, as well as wounding 240,000 more.
Among the casualties was my handsome cousin, Thure Carlsson, age 25. Thure had immigrated to America from Sweden a few years before the war broke out in Europe. When the United States entered the war, he was drafted.
I was only 8 years old at the time, but I remember so well when he came to our rural home near Hallock, Minn., to say farewell. He played some old Swedish melodies on his accordion as we kids dangled our feet from the edge of the porch.
We never saw him again. He was killed in action on November 2, 1918, during the Allies’ final push. Germany was forced to surrender, and the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, just nine days after Thure gave his life. The irony of it was that his native land was a neutral country and did not believe in war; now he had taken up arms for another country.
When the war ended, the telephone operators were instructed to ring everybody’s telephone to signify the war’s end. It seemed that our phone rang for a long, long time. Also coming to an end was the rationing of certain goods. I especially remember that we could not buy sugar. Many people purchased Karo syrup in one-gallon tin pails for sweetening their coffee.
On Decoration Day in 1919, Hallock featured a long parade from the school to the Greenwood Cemetery, a quarter of a mile away. The Hallock High School Band led the parade, followed by veterans, American Legion and Auxiliary members, military units in their splendid uniforms and town dignitaries. All of the schoolchildren followed, each one carrying an American flag. We had just moved to the farm where we could attend the Hallock Public School, so this was my first Decoration Day commemoration.
All of the children were dressed in their finest. Mother, an excellent seamstress, had made wonderful dresses with ruffles for us girls for this very special occasion. I remember my dress was pink and my sister Vanjie’s was identical, except that it was light blue. The kids must have been an impressive sight as the procession wound its way up the wooden sidewalk that led to the cemetery. Many of the girls wore white and each of the students carried an American flag.
At the cemetery there were speeches and music, the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a 21-gun salute, and the playing of Taps. A senior girl recited the poem, “In Flanders Fields” which begins: “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row.” To this day, it is part of every Memorial Day service in Hallock.
Cousin Thure is not buried at Flanders Field, but rather at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.
When the program concluded at the cemetery, everyone walked back to town, past the school, and into the next block where the just-completed hospital stood. It had been named Veterans Memorial Hospital, and was being dedicated to the veterans. Kittson County had its own monument for its fallen heroes.
The hospital grounds had not yet been sodded, so it was like standing in a plowed field. The day was very warm; it felt like 90 degrees as we all dutifully listened to speeches from the town’s dignitaries. I stood hemmed in by hordes of big people and all at once it got to be too much for as 9-year-old. I felt myself falling backward in slow motion and the sense of being caught by strong arms behind me.
When I woke up, I found myself on a couch on the porch of the Woodard house across the street. Some ladies were bringing me cookies and lemonade. I had no ill effects from the experience and walked the mile back to our farm.
It had been a long and tiring day, but I am glad I experienced that very special Decoration Day.