Honoring Those Who Have Served – Lest We Forget the Origins of Memorial Day
When I was a child, Memorial Day was more than just the start of the summer season, the official blessing for wearing white shoes, and the Indy 500. There were parades to honor the fallen hero, the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who had given his life in the service of his or her country. We laid wreaths on the graves of those who has served, watched parades with marching WWI, WWII, and Korean War veterans, laid flowers on the graves of our own loved ones and flew the American flag from every porch. There were no three-day weekends. Memorial Day was always, reliably, on May 30th.
Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was first observed to remember the sacrifices of those who had died on both sides of the American Civil War on May 30, 1868. General John Logan, who was serving as the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, set forth his proclamation in his General Order No. 11. The proclamation was meant as a way to show respect to and honor the dead of both sides. The General Order read in part:
The 30th day of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of
strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of
comrades who died in defense of their country during the late
rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village,
and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own
way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the
purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening
those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together
the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late
rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were
the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo
of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with
sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the
nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute
to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely
on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and
going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of
avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a
free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of
life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred
remains and garland the passionless mounds above them
with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them
the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn
presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they
have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the
soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
Now, I admit to being a fan of three-day weekends, cookouts, and strict rules regarding the wearing of white shoes (which really flatter nobody); however, we should not lose sight of the meaning of Memorial Day and the need to honor those who have paid the ultimate price so that we can live our lives as free people.
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