Remembering the Fallen

May 26, 2011

For many families across the United States, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. We host gatherings with family, friends and neighbors and look forward to the warm months ahead. More importantly, during this time, we also remember and pay tribute to American soldiers. Memorial Day is the date we as a country stop to remember the fallen men and women who bravely served our country.

On November 19, 1863 during one the most notable moments in American history, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, and in it remarked on the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for freedom and rights. His words, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion,” signified a beginning to the May tradition we all know today.

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day began as a tribute in the years following the Civil War. In 1865 Women’s Auxiliaries of the North and South, and one notable man, Henry C. Welles, from Waterloo, NY promoted efforts to set aside time to honor and decorate the graves of those members of the military who died fighting in the Civil War. Then, on May 5, 1868, by proclamation of General John A. Logan, May 30th of that year became the first widely observed Decoration Day:

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

At that first date, nearly 5,000 participants visited Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Years later, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY as the official birthplace of Memorial Day to honor the efforts of Henry C. Welles and the town’s annual community event where businesses closed and residents gathered to lay flowers and flags on the graves of soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Then, in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May.

Today, to commemorate the fallen service men and women, a small American flag is placed on each grave in Arlington National Cemetery, followed by remarks from the President where these fallen soldiers are honored and remembered for their contributions to our country.

At home many of us participate in Memorial Day by marching in or attending parades, wearing red poppies or by decorating graves of loved ones we have lost. Americans can also partake by joining a national moment of remembrance that takes place at 3:00 p.m. each year on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a somber day where Americans share in the loss of the many soldiers who died defending our country, and also a day where we honor those that sacrificed for the lives and freedoms we enjoy today.

If you and your family would like to attend a parade in our area of the state and are looking for local options, visit: Seymour, Sunday May 29th at 11:00 a.m.; Monroe, Sunday May 29th at 2:00 p.m.; Shelton/Derby on Monday May 30th at 9:00 a.m.; or Stratford on Monday May 30th at 2:15 p.m.