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Decoration Day or Memorial Day

By Mike Watson

Memorial Day was and is a day of remembrance in my family, a day to reflect on our history, our family, and sacrifice for our nation. My earliest memories of cemeteries centered around the placing of floral tributes on the final resting places of many relatives, some of whom, of course, served in the armed forces. It was always a time of visiting with kin and friends who were engaged in the same ritual. Groups would form and disperse at every cemetery throughout the designated weekend. This past weekend I made that trip, visiting over a dozen 'silent cities' and placing a few flowers and a number of flags on graves.

I much appreciate volunteers placing U.S. Flags on the graves of veterans at both the Columbia Cemetery and Haven Hill and others across the county, state, and nation. You have my deepest gratitude for this service to honor our veterans. There are always some youngsters among the flag-planters, our traditions and respect for national service shall not waver as long as we instill its importance.

Decoration Day in the United States was born out of the devastation of the Civil War. During this 'darkest of times' our nation suffered in every possible way.

Millions sacrificed in various ways, more than half a million men and some women made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives to the cause. Even before the war ended there were some communities across the nation that paid tribute to these fallen by decorating their graves with flowers and flags. By 1868 the new-born custom of visiting the graves of war dead had become something of a ritual, and grew with each passing year.

Several towns across the country, both Northern and Southern, claimed to be the first to honor the dead and the rightful birthplace of Decoration Day. All likely have a good claim. The first national Decoration Day was held in May 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, attended by 5,000 who helped decorate the graves of over 20,000 Civil War veterans. On that day, General James Garfield made a talk. This action prompted other events across the nation and by the turn of the century, many communities celebrated this day.

May 30th came to be the semi-official Day of Remembrance in many locales. One reason for this date having been selected is that fresh flowers would be in abundance by this time of year in most areas. State legislatures proclaimed this date as the official date of observance in the late 1800s.

After the Great War, World War I, the date was expanded to honor all Americans who died in war. Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an Act of Congress in 1971, and the date of observance placed on the last Monday in May.

Several Southern states, where the practice of decoration of Civil War graves is thought to have actually originated, still observe a separate day for Confederate dead, called Confederate Decoration Day; Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day.

The National Moment of Remembrance Act, passed by Congress in 2000 and signed by the President, encourages all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence in remembrance and honor of those who have died in service to the Nation.

Decoration Day or Memorial Day has become a general day of remembrance for all our dead. More than a century ago families began to decorate the graves of all their departed, whether veteran or not. Today we continue this observance. Southerners in particular make the pilgrimage to family cemeteries, often far from their current abode, to honor kinsmen with floral tributes and placement of flags for veterans. This day became a time of reunion for families and friends who, a century ago and since, may not have seen each other since the last observance.

God Bless those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in time of conflict.

This story was posted on 2022-05-30 08:57:52
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Traditional Memorial Day service held Sunday

2022-05-30 - Columbia, KY - Photo by Mayor Pamela Hoots.
The traditional Memorial Day service was held Sunday, May 29, 2022 at the VFW Post # 6097.

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