Holiday’s roots from Civil War
Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day, began after the Civil War. Several towns, such as Boalsburg, Pa., held their own celebrations as early as 1864 to honor the soldiers who died preserving the union, although many credit Henry C. Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, N.Y., with coming up with the idea in 1866.
Honoring the veterans was a popular idea and came to the attention of General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1868, he issued this order that set May 30 as Decoration Day, a national observance:
General Order Number 11 of the Grand Army of the Republic:
On the 5th of May 1868 as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, I issued to our comrades throughout the land the following order:
Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic, Adjutant General’s Office No. 444, 14th Street Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868.
General Orders No 11.
I – The 30th day of May 1868 is designate 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 by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their hearts 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 toils 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, and other hands black, 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 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, a sacred charge upon a nations gratitude the soldiers and sailors widow and orphan.
II – It is the purpose of the commander in chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that 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 order of John A. Logan, commander in chief
Official A. P. Chipman, adjutant general
(Trumbull County has a connection to Logan. His son married a Youngstown native and settled in Liberty).
After World War I, the holiday was expanded to honor veterans who fought in all U.S. wars, and in 1968, it was moved to the last Monday in May to create a three-day holiday weekend.
There are several ways individuals can honor America’s veterans today. Families can fly the American flag. Volunteers can decorate soldiers’ graves. And no matter what part of Trumbull you live in, you are close to a parade or memorial service.
The Tribune Chronicle will do its part. Beginning this weekend, and running every weekly until Veterans Day, we will profile a local veteran in the newspaper and culminate the annual practice with a commemorative publication and a parade.
On the whole, the American people have become cynical about politics and politicians. They tend not to vote. But there really is nothing corny or old-fashioned about patriotism and honoring those who served so that our country could remain free.