tomorrow, 26 may 2008, will be the 142nd celebration of memorial day in the united states of america. not bad for a local observance of the civil war dead in waterloo, ny. the idea for the honoring came from druggist henry c. wells 1865 and made into a reality with help from brigadier general john b. murray on 05 may 1866.
on 05 may 1868, general order 11 was issued by the first commander general of the army of te republic, john a. logan. at the time the commemoration was known as "decoration day" and it waterloo happily joined the rest of the nation in remembering the fallen soldiers on 30 may 1868.
i'm not certain who actually wrote the general order, but general logan gets the credit and the words still ring true today. the words are few and the order, in its entirety is as follows:
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. 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 churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or 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 by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a 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 found 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 free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and 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 in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.
By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
N. P. CHIPMAN,
this is still, primarily how it is celebrated today. well except for the anti-war protesters. and the sales at the malls that mention the day the sale if for but not the acts the day is for. and the backyard bar-b-ques that don't mention the day at all.
when i was a kid (and yes i know i'm OLD) everything was closed for memorial day. well the radio stations still broadcast and the firemen were still ready to serve, as were the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, but pretty much everything else was closed. if you forgot something you needed for your family bar-b-que, you either borrowed it from a neighbor or you did without.
seems like everyone in town was somehow involved in the memorial day parade. personally, i've actually participated in too many to remember. there were countless marches as a girl scout color-guard. then there was the time i one an essay contest on what memorial day meant to me when i was 10 and i got to ride on the firetruck with my daddy and it was a big deal. well, my daddy was ALWAYS on the firetruck as he was a volunteer fireman (where i grew up we only had volunteer fire and rescue services and they were excellent) so it probably didn't mean as much to him as me. then there were the years when i helped to build some floats for the high school but i marched in the parades proudly playing my trumpet in my UGLY marching band uniform.
these are things i remember in a secondary manner when i remember memorial day from my youth. the things that come first to mind are quite a bit less flashy, but by far more important.
i remember the military - we lived in a town with a military base and they were everywhere. and even though my family was a military family (granddad served in the navy before serving in and retiring from the army), dad and one uncle were in the air force and my other two uncles served in the marines, each of them always made it a point to thank and honor every vet and active duty military person he came in contact with. and they taught each of we kids to do the same.
i remember the trek to arlington national cemetery and walking amongst the rows and rows of graves with the tiny american flags waving in the breeze. it seems like there was always a breeze there, but it could be a trick of memory...
sometimes we'd get "lucky" and get to follow along behind a cason bearing one of the chosen to his final resting point in that vast cemetery. i remember the electricity in the air from anticipation just before the 21-gun salute. the honor guard folding the flag and presenting to the wife or mother of the fallen. i remember the symbolism that i instinctively knew was important even as a youngster.
i remember the walk to the tomb of the unknown soldier - i bet that to this day my father has no need to consult a map to find the tomb - and silent vigil we made each visit. the time we sat in silent respect varied, but we almost always sat long enough to see the changing of the guard. the honor and dignity these sentinels bring to the job is truly something to behold.
i remember the pride i had each time i saw this ritual repeated and i feel the same still today - regardless of whether i'm seeing it live or in a video on you tube. it's the same feeling i get each time i see a man in uniform - whether he's a vfw or active duty, makes no difference - i have to fight back the tears of pride.
i have to admit that we have done precious little to honor our military since we've moved to kansas city. but tomorrow, i will make it a point to honor those who i can find.
and if any should read my blog to whom this pertains, please accept my deepest gratitude and most heartfelt thanks for your willingness to stand in harm's way for me and my family.