In 1866, following the Civil War, Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, had an inspiration. That inspiration helped create Memorial Day, our most sacred national holiday. He suggested that all the shops in Waterloo close for a day to honor the soldiers who were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5, 1866, the townspeople gathered at the cemetery and placed flowers, flags and crosses on the graves of the soldiers who had died during the Civil War.
The townspeople called it Decoration Day. This was not a happy celebration, but a solemn one to honor those who died in service to their country.
On May 5, 1868, Gen. Jonathan Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order Number 11. Gen. Logan asked that the 30th day of May be designated for the purpose of strewing flowers and decorations on the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the Civil War. He ordered this observance be kept from year to year and asked the public press to call attention to this order. It would be difficult to improve on the remarks of Gen. James Garfield, who would later become the president of our country.
Garfield said at the very first national Memorial Day observance, “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens, For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and virtue.”
In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and the soldiers who had fallen during the American Revolution and the War of 1812 were honored as well. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The southern states commemorated their dead on different days until President Richard M. Nixon, in 1971, declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May. Throughout the course of our nation’s history, almost 1 million men and women have died in military service to our country.
Monday is Memorial Day. Please remember those who have given their lives protecting and fostering the freedoms we enjoy and continue to pray for peace and an end to conflicts adding names to the roll of those we honor.