Memorial Day: a day of remembrance and thanks
Several men in my family tree have served in the military, but the only one I know of who died in a war was my grandfather’s brother. He was Corporal John F. Lamont of Company F-132nd Infantry, and he was killed in action on October 9, 1918, in the Argonne. Those are just facts from the Internet. I wish I knew more about him. Maybe over time, I will be able to learn more. I would love to know what he was like, what he looked like, what his kind of personality he had, how he enjoyed spending his time before his life was cruelly snuffed out.
Families and friends of the deceased have decorated graves since time immemorial, but Memorial Day–an official day to honor those who gave their lives in military service–dates from the 1860s, right after the American Civil War. There is some controversy over when and where the first official Memorial Day actually took place, with Columbus, Georgia; Columbus, Missouri; and Waterloo, New York being among the possible launch spots (newspaper misinformation is blamed for the confusion–’twas ever thus). Whatever the origin, on April 26, 1866,the graves of Confederate casualties of the Civil War were decorated with flowers, hence the name Decoration Day. Some Southern women were generous enough to also place flowers on the graves of Union soldiers buried in that region. This gracious gesture made the news, and the custom spread northward.
In 1868, Decoration Day was moved from April to May 30, so that chilly Northerners would also have some flowers to place on graves. In time the name changed to Memorial Day and expanded to honor those killed in all wars, not just the Civil War. The date remained May 30 until 1971, when the it was changed to the last Monday of May in accordance with the federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act (although a handful of hardy Southerners still cling to April 26).
Though some may resist smudging a perfect spring weekend with somber thoughts, I think it’s important to remember and to grieve. So many young men and women have given their lives for our freedom. This weekend, let’s each take at least a few moments between barbecues and ball games to remember those who gave their lives for their country and honor the sacrifice they’ve made. If you know of a particular soldier, sailor, or marine, perhaps someone in your family or town or circle of friends and acquaintances, tell their stories to your children. so that the memories will live on.