By: Dave McDonald, BCHS – President
May is already upon us and thanks to the moderate April whether the flowers are well into bloom, trees are filling out with foliage and you have probably already had to mow the lawn more than once.
Our topic is the recognition of the May national holiday, Memorial Day. Many Americans make the mistake of believing that Veterans Day is the day set aside to honor American military personnel who have died in battles. That would not be true. Memorial Day is the national day established to honor America’s war dead. Veteran’s Day was created to honor ALL American soldiers, both dead and living, with emphasis on the living for their dedication and loyal service to the country.
Memorial (Decoration) Day was officially proclaimed in May 1868 by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It started on May 30th of that year at Arlington National Cemetery with flowers placed on both the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. It had only been 3 years since the ending of the Civil War and the great loss of thousands of America’s men and women.
New York was the first state to officially recognize Decoration Day in 1873. By 1890 it had been recognized by all northern states. Southern states refused to give acknowledgment to the day while continuing to honor their Civil War dead on separate days.
At the conclusion of World War, I the holiday was changed from honoring those who died in the Civil War to include Americans who died fighting in any war. Several southern states still maintain a separate Civil War Remembrance Day for Confederate soldiers. It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May.
Unfortunately, the transition from a specific date of remembrance to a national 3-day weekend holiday has diminished people’s focus on the intent of the day over the years. Sadly, many Americans now-days have forgotten the meaning and traditions associated with Memorial Day. Many towns have ceased having Memorial Day parades and remembrance ceremonies.
You should take great pride in Branch County for all the efforts by so many of its citizens to organize and carry out the parades, city park presentations, reenactment festivities, decorating of soldier’s graves with flags and flowers and traditional cemetery dedications. Many local people spend weeks organizing and preparing the resources for our Memorial Day weekend events.
There are 59 identified cemeteries in the country of Branch. A very few hold the markers of Revolutionary War veterans. Many include veterans from the Civil War. In remembrance of all the men and women who have fallen in the service of our country, I would like to end on the words of Theodore O’Hara (1838 – 1915):
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.