Yesterday our country observed Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who died in service to the United States of America. Many towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day), but Waterloo, NY was officially declared the birthplace by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. Even with that declaration it is hard to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
One thing is clear, however. Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. On May 5, 1868 General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed that May 30th would be a day to decorate the graves of comrades who had died in defense of their country. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington Cemetery on the first Decoration Day and 5000 people decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. It was after WWI that the holiday changed from remembering only those who died in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
The last Monday in May was made the official date for Memorial Day when Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971.
Here in Phillips County Memorial Day has been observed with a ceremony in Marvell. For years it was held at the Tri-County Fairgrounds, but moved to the indoor comfort of the Marvell Methodist Church a few years ago.
My family attended this event every year. It was an occasion to honor all veterans, not just those who lost their lives. It was Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day rolled into one. Seeing the pride in the veterans who were there was inspiring. Patriotic songs were sung, speeches given, and heroes recognized.
Unfortunately, this event did not take place this year. I missed it. But, nevertheless, we can each honor and remember our veterans in other ways. Be sure to reach out and thank them for their service. The bravery and courage they exemplified in service to our country should never be forgotten.