The first official Memorial Day was observed on the 30th of May, 1868. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, gave a general order to place flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Decoration Day, as it was called back then, was to be a day of unity and reconciliation to honor those who gave their all in what was at that time referred to as the Nation War.
It wasn’t until after World War I that the holiday was changed to honor all those who died in war, instead of just the casualties of the Civil War. Even though it has been a federal holiday since 1971, there are still some states that either don’t officially participate in the national Memorial Day or that do so in addition to a separate day honoring the Confederate war dead.
Perhaps this is part of the reason the true intent and meaning of Memorial Day seems to have been lost over the years.
This day, as it was first officially declared, was to be a day on which we transcended our differences; a day when we would look across the divide, whatever that may be, and collectively paused and honored all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation.
Though it was a Union general who proclaimed this, it is thought the true origins come from the tradition of southern women’s groups who decorated the graves of fallen soldiers, even before the end of the War Between the States.
Some say that today we are nearly as divided and polarized as we were when brother literally fought brother on the battlefield. Every one of us knows it is our right to have and express opinions and beliefs that are completely contrary to our neighbor.
What every one of us needs to remember, at least on this day, is our country is what it is because of generations who have believed in our rights so fiercely they risked and lost their lives for them.
Whatever your beliefs, whatever your politics, on this one day won’t you take a moment, just a breath, long enough to acknowledge that whether you agree or disagree with the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are those who laid down their lives for your right to believe as you do?
At three o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, May 28, join in a moment of silent remembrance of all those who have died in the service of our country.
Some Memorial Day events around Plainfield:
Wounded Warrior 5K – 8 a.m. today.
Plainfield Memorial Day Parade – 10:30 a.m. Monday.
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery – 11:30 a.m. Monday