With Memorial Day upon us and some nice weather finally here, I hope you and your families are gearing up for a fun summer. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming and our town looks beautiful this time of year. The holiday marks our observance of those who have paid the ultimate price in our country’s history to live free and take it all in.
The tradition began on the heels of the Civil War, though there is some debate on the exact location that it was born. We know that Waterloo, N.Y. first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 and 100 years later, the federal government declared it the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. The town would annually host community-wide events, close its businesses and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. It wasn’t called Memorial Day in those early years, in fact it was known as Decoration Day and came to be celebrated on May 30 by many northern states. The first official celebration saw Gen. James Garfield make a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, with 5,000 participants decorating 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
For decades, the day exclusively recognized those that fell in the Civil War. After the First World War in the early part of the 20 century, the holiday evolved into a day to honor those lost in all wars. For the next several decades, May 30 stood as the designated recognition date until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971.
Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.
We have our own tradition in Harrison Township that consists of rifle volleys and the playing of “Taps” at various locations in town. Regardless of the place or manner of the tradition, Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the wonder that is America, all that it represents and those who gave their lives in defense of it.