Tag Archive | "General John A. Logan"

In Memory of Memorial Day

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Because many towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, the exact origin of this holiday remains vague.  Originally named Decoration Day, we do know that Memorial Day has Southern roots.  It began when groups of Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers during and after the Civil War.  “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” a hymn published in 1867 by Nella L. Sweet, was sung during the commemorative ceremonies.  However, Decoration Day was neither recognized nor treated as a special day.

In the wake of the Civil War, a great rift continued to exist between the North and South, as did the need to honor the fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Reconciliation between the two sides was critical to our national healing process.

General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, began that process.  On May 5, 1868 Logan announced the establishment of Memorial Day.  On May 30th of that year, the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated, for the first time, at Arlington Cemetery.

The State of New York officially recognized the holiday in 1873; by 1890, the other Northern States had embraced it.  The South, however, continued to observe a separate day.  After World War I, Memorial Day assumed a broader meaning.  Proclaimed a national holiday, its intent was to honor the fallen soldiers of all wars.

In 1915, Moina Michael, who was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field,” penned her own paean to our troops:

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.


Moina sold poppy flowers to benefit our servicemen in need.  Her devotion, coupled with her poem, gave birth to the practice of wearing poppies in our lapels in observance of Memorial Day.

A French woman named Madam Guerin then copied this practice as a means of generating funds for the Franco-American Children’s League, which supported orphans in France and Belgium.  A year later, when  the League disbanded, Madam Guerin reached out to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for assistance.  Thus, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell Buddy Poppies made by disabled veterans nationwide.  In 1948, the United States Postal Service honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy Movement with a three-cent stamp bearing her likeness.

Over the years, America has drifted away from traditional customs, and Memorial Day is one such casualty.  Ironically, it was our government that initiated the loss of Memorial Day as a way of honoring the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.

In 1971, Congress enacted P.L. 90-363, which stated that Memorial Day would henceforth be celebrated on the last Monday in May, in order to ensure a three-day holiday weekend.   It also guaranteed that businesses would rake in extra cash by hosting Memorial Day blowout sales.  The VFW and other veteran groups responded to P.L. 90-363 by telling our legislators that changing the date simply to accommodate a three-day holiday weekend would undermine the very meaning of the day.  Congress’ act has contributed directly to the public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced a bill to the Senate (S-189) in order to return Memorial Day to its original date of May 30th.  Exactly three months later, Representative Gibbons introduced virtually the same bill, H.R. 1474, to the House.   Both bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Government Reform.  To date, the bills are still languishing.   I guess they’re not good for business.

In December 2000, in an effort to restore public awareness, President Clinton issued a directive to have a voluntary moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day.

Despite these efforts, Congress sought to hijack yet another day of observance when it attempted to convert Veterans Day to a three-day holiday weekend.  Met with stiff opposition by veterans’ groups, the attempt did not succeed.

American traditions are constantly challenged for the sake of the Almighty Buck.  If our days of observance vanish completely, it will be because our lawmakers failed to understand that Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless.

The History and Meaning of Memorial Day

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Although justified in the name of human rights, our nation’s Civil War tore entire families asunder and left many casualties.   In order to help our country begin to heal from its self-inflicted wounds, many communities across the country set aside a day to honor those who had fallen in the Civil War.  Aptly named Decoration Day, it mirrored the practice of decorating the graves of the fallen with flowers and flags.

The first observance of Decoration Day occurred on May 5th, 1866 at Waterloo, New York.  Two prominent generals – General John Murray, who was a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of a veteran’s organization known as The Grand Army of the Republic –present that day determined that they would expand the holiday to encompass families and their departed loved ones nationwide.  Thus positioned to claim the attention of the public, these military leaders proclaimed that Decoration Day be observed nationwide.  A few short weeks later, on May 30th of the same year, it was.  The date of May 30th may very well have been arbitrary, as it was not associated with any Civil War battle.

Many Southern States refused to observe the holiday, due to the hostility that lingered in the air long after the last shot of the war was fired.  In order to gain the South’s consensus, the name Decoration Day, which was so closely associated with the Civil War, became known as Memorial Day.  The name was first unveiled in 1882, but it did not become official until June 28, 1968!

On that day, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill, a piece of legislation that moved traditional dates of observance to specified Mondays, so as to create three-day holiday weekends.  The holidays so chosen were George Washington’s Birthday (later known as Presidents Day, when it was combined to simultaneously honor Abraham Lincoln), Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day.  However, as many veteran organizations did not wish to comply with the bill, Veteran’s Day was ultimately restored to its original date of November 11th.

As a result of this creation of long holiday weekends, most corporate businesses no longer close on Veteran’s day, Columbus Day, President’s Day, or the day after Thanksgiving, because it’s good for business!  By moving Memorial Day, in 1971, from its traditional May 30th to the last Monday in May, our lawmakers either wittingly or unwittingly created the three-day weekend that has come a long way from honoring our fallen heroes.  Instead of decorating graves, throngs flock to our oceans, rivers, and lakes to jump into the drink and patronize all manners of vendors, who profit.  Larger profits = more taxes, so I suppose the government had this planned all along as a money maker, rather than a way to give hard working taxpayers a long weekend.

More than two centuries have passed from America’s courageous and tenacious inception in 1776.  But at every step in our evolution, we have paid the price of freedom.  As the pages in our history have turned past the Civil War to the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, and the Iraqi and Afghan wars, those pages were marked by a long trail of American blood.  That blood is still being shed for the freedoms that many of us now take for granted.

A wise man once said, “Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless” and “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”  As a nation, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have served and who continue to serve and protect us.  These include our fallen heroes as well as our armed forces, both in action and on peacekeeping missions, and all of the police, fire, and rescue departments stretching from sea to shining sea.  Honoring Memorial Day is actually a way to honor them.

You can start the day by displaying the American flag prominently outside your home or place of business, and by wearing it, gentlemen, on your lapel and ladies, as a pin.  You may also be moved to attend one of the many local services honoring our soldiers.  Or, you can simply take a moment from your happy holiday of Memorial Day, whether you are at home or on a beach or at a family gathering, especially one that includes children.  You can be the one to announce, “Will everyone stop what you are doing for a moment of silence, while we offer up a prayer to honor those who gave us this day by protecting our freedoms.”  You can end the remembrance with, “God Bless America.”  Thus, you will have paid your debt, as well as your respect to those who mightily deserve it. 

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