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#MuseumFromHome - Memorial Day Greetings

Greenbelt, Maryland. Lowering the flag at Memorial Day ceremonies conducted by the American Legion. May 1942 by Marjory Collins, Library of Congress

Memorial Day is this Monday and there’s no doubt it will look and feel different for all of us as we adjust to the precautions we must take in the midst of the worldwide pandemic. The purpose of the day, however, has not changed - to honor those men and women who have died while serving in the US military. Memorial Day has always been an important holiday in Greenbelt, and its history, perhaps more than most communities, is interwoven with WWII. The federal government built 1,000 additional homes here in 1941 to house Defense workers and families of those on active duty. The Defense housing, as it was called, doubled the size of the fledgling town and just as in the rest of Greenbelt, residents would become accustomed to the air raid drills, blackouts, rationing, etc. that was part of life on the homefront during the war. Another element of life during wartime, of course, was the acknowledgement of various important dates during the war, and, importantly, the honoring of those who had died serving their country.

A recent email exchange I had with Friends of the Greenbelt Museum member, Margaret Poore, brought to life some elements of what life was like here during wartime. She also reflects on what’s happening currently. She and her parents, Gwladys Lewis and James Warren Smith, were the original occupants of a Defense house at 3K Research Road. They lived there from June 1942 through June 1947. She wrote the following.

“I was talking with one of my granddaughters about V-E Day [Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945] in Greenbelt. I was, first of all, astounded that she did not know the term V-E Day. After a brief history lesson, she realized that she had studied that time period in her history classes, but V-E and V-J [Victory over Japan Day, August 14, 1985] were new to her.

The Gold Star designation indicated that a woman had lost sons or a husband in the war. In this photograph, Mrs. James P. Sommers stands on the right. Her son, William, had been killed in the South Pacific. Mrs. Eubanks and Mrs. Fred Yeatts were also honored as they had lost husbands. Dr. James McCarl of the Greenbelt American Legion led the May 28, 1944 ceremony. Photo by Nick Pergola. Greenbelt Museum Collection

“I told her about celebrating within the court, singing the National Anthem, and cheering. I also told her about the windows with White star and Gold star "flags" in them. And that I remember that, although neighbors celebrated, there was also a sense of disquiet and foreboding. As an adult, I realize that was because we were still at war. V-E only meant that family members in service, now faced redeployment to the Pacific. In fact, my Dad was on an oil tanker in the Pacific.

“So, I grew up during a period of world wide war and economic depression, and, now at the other end of my life, I live during a period of another kind of world wide war and economic depression. Wow. Not sure I like those kinds of bookends.”

Though Greenbelt is only just a bit past its 80th birthday, it’s seen its fair share of challenges. There’s no doubt that the legacy of citizen activism, and the resilience of its residents, as well as their willingness to work together to solve challenges will see it through this one. Let us know what Memorial Day traditions you and your friends and family have and how you plan to adapt this year! We also are always interested in your photos and remembrances of life here. Get in touch with us anytime at

Extra Credit: Did you know that one theory of the origins of Memorial Day involves the activities of a large group of recently freed African Americans in the spring of 1865? Read more about it at the website.

We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy and we know that many of you are not in a position to give at the present time, but if you'd like to support the Friends of the Greenbelt Museum by becoming a member or making a donation, we would welcome your support! Visit here to learn more.

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