Decoration Day started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. The remembrance provided an opportunity to reflect on the terrible toll both sides paid in determining our Nation’s future. Combined, the two sides sacrificed over 600,000 soldiers giving true significance to the day; few families could say they had not felt the loss of a relative or friend.
The origin of the day is somewhat disputed, however grave decorations have been recorded for the fallen as early as 1861. Many historians credit Boalsburg, Pennsylvania as the origin after women decorated soldiers’ graves in 1864. Regardless the time and place, Decoration Day was a day to remember those members of the military who lives were lost in the service of our country.
The first observance to gain significant publicity happened shortly after the end of the Civil War. Teachers, missionaries, and black residents known as freedmen descended on the site where some 250 Union soldiers had been buried after perishing as prisoners of war in the Hampton Park Race Park. The soldiers had been hastily buried in unmarked graves and without ceremony or honor.
The freedman tended the grounds and built an enclosure and arch known as the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” The New York Tribune and other lesser national newspapers covered the event as close to 10,000 people, mostly freedmen including 3,000 of their children now in the school, turned out to honor the fallen soldiers. Flowers were brought and laid on the burial field.
The 20th Century brought two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and numerous other conflicts that our finest men and women were called to pay the price for Lady Liberty. With these conflicts, many new names were added to the list of honor. As more have fallen, more people have found cause to continue the remembrance with personal significance. With more to remember, the name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day and included all who died during military service versus just those of the Civil War.
On May 26, 1966, President Johnson declared Waterloo, New York to be the birthplace of Memorial Day with the signing of a proclamation. This followed Congress’ passage of the House Concurrent Resolution 587, which recognized Waterloo, New York as the birthplace a century earlier. This of course led to numerous other claims to be the birthplace, none of which has ever been conclusively proven to be the true birthplace.
Where and when exactly did it begin? Who knows and who cares? What matters most is that the fallen service members’ sacrifice will be honored and remembered. As was true after the Civil War, few today can claim they have not been touched, lost a loved one, family member, friend or someone they served with, who lost their life during military service. Let us remember them today with our own roll call of honor by remembering them here.
Please list the soldier, sailor, airmen or marine you want to remember in the comment section. I’ll start with two: EM3 Daniel Jones, USS Antietam CG-54 Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Shield and Maj. Ricardo A Crocker, 5th Civil Affairs Group, Marine Forces Reserve, Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Hadithah, Iraq.