I wrote this post in 2012 for Memorial Day. It is well worth reprinting in memory of all those who fought and died to make the United States the free nation that it is today.
When I was younger, Memorial Day was sometimes referred to as Decoration Day. It was the day that was set aside by a grateful nation to decorate the graves of our honored dead. It wasn’t meant for sales, outdoor barbecues and games.
The original Decoration Day was first proclaimed by General John Logan, the first national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order #11 on May 5, 1868. The United States was barely three years past the end of the Civil War.
Mothers had lost sons; sometimes as many as five in the case of Mrs. Lydia Bixby of Boston, Massachusetts. Abraham Lincoln’s letter to her is featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. (It now appears that she only lost two of her five sons.) The Union veterans were looking for a dignified way to honor their fallen comrades. Logan gave them that way.
GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN’S MEMORIAL DAY ORDER
General Order No. 11
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 fond mourners. Let no vandalism or 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, Commander-in-Chief .
N. P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant-General.
Until 1882 the day was called Decoration Day. New York was the first state to make it a legal holiday. By 1890 all of the northern states had followed suit. The southern states had their own Memorial Day. The National Holiday Act of 1971 changed the whole feel of Memorial Day from a one-day commemoration of the nation’s war dead to a three-day holiday weekend.
“There are no better teachers for those who come after us than the silent monuments on the battlefields, marking the places where men died for a principle they believed right, whether they wore the blue or the gray uniform.”
Major Wells Sponable, 34th New York Monument dedication at the Antietam battlefield.
So when you’re flipping that burger, eating that hot dog or cruising the mall, please have a thought for those who lie beneath the ground that they defended with their lives. Remember that the price of freedom has been very high. Remember that was paid for in the blood of American patriots. When you see a service member be sure to thank them for their service to our country.