ARTICLE OF THE DAY

Memorial Day: Remember the Meaning
by Brian North
5/25/05

Memorial Day is the unofficial, official start of summer. There will be cookouts across America; people will eat too much, drink too much, and get sunburned. They will watch parades, baseball games, auto races, and the NCAA Lacrosse title game. ECU baseball fans will worry about the Pirates' chance of getting into the national tournament, and high school seniors will be graduating and worrying about trips to the beach.

But Memorial Day weekend should also be remembered for what it was intended: to honor our servicemen and women who died in war. But most people don't even know the history behind this holiday. So here's a little history lesson.

In 1866, the United States was recovering from the Civil War. Surviving soldiers came home with stories to tell and wounds to heal. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, heard the stories and had an idea. He suggested that all the shops in town close for one day to honor the soldiers who were killed in the Civil War and were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5, the townspeople placed flowers, wreaths and crosses on the graves of the Northern soldiers in the cemetery. At about the same time, Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan planned another ceremony, this time for the soldiers who survived the war. He led the veterans through town to the cemetery to decorate their comrades' graves with flags. It was not a happy celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it Decoration Day.

The two ceremonies were joined in 1868, and northern states commemorated the day on May 30. The southern states commemorated their war dead on different days. Children read poems and sang Civil War songs and veterans came to schools wearing their medals and uniforms to tell students about the Civil War. Then the veterans marched through their home towns followed by the townspeople to the cemetery. They decorated graves and took photographs of soldiers next to American flags. Rifles were shot in the air as a salute to the northern soldiers who had given their lives to keep the United States together.

In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died in previous wars were honored as well. In the northern United States, it was designated a public holiday. In 1971, along with other holidays, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day is not limited to honor only those Americans from the armed forces. It is also a day for personal remembrance. Families and individuals honor the memories of their loved ones who have died. Church services, visits to the cemetery, flowers on graves or even silent tribute mark the day with dignity and solemnity. It is a day of reflection.

So take some time this weekend among the madness to think of those who made your fun filled weekend possible. And then get ready for the Pirates trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Brian North
bnorth@wcti12.com