by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 25, 2007
COMRADES IN ARMS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The national holiday looked upon as the true beginning of America's summer was not always part of a three-day weekend, nor was it called Memorial Day. The sentiment of remembering those who fought and died in the service of their country has always been the primary focus, even if it appears to take a back seat to the red, white and blue, community carnivals and events.
In my childhood, we called May 30th "Decoration Day," a name never officially adopted but used by the public and in the press until the turn of the last century. I recall most vividly the '30s and '40s, when this special day, always on the 30th of May, meant a fife-and-drum corps from a local school would parade through the streets while their music reverberated through the alleys between brick houses.
We decorated with all the red white and blue we could find, weaving it through bicycle spokes, and followed the decree to march along with the aging veterans still among us who fought in previous wars, and we marched with the somewhat younger veterans of foreign wars returned from fighting World Wars I and II.
Our families raised flags at dawn, children waved small ones, and if one touched the ground we would gasp in horror that we might seem disrespectful. We held our heads down, right hand to our hearts, little silk poppies in the button-holes of our jackets or pinned to our shirts, feeling throat-catching love and appreciation for our brave fighting forces past and present. Later in the day we would follow our decorating with picnics and joy, always acknowledging how blessed we are to be living in the "land of the free and the home of the brave," with due thanks to those who made our freedom possible.
It was on May 5, 1868, that John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in General Orders No. 11, Washington, D.C. proclaimed: "The 30th day 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 …and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard 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."
First observed on May 30, 1868, the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, were decorated with flowers to honor them for their sacrifice on our behalf. And so it continued there, but not everywhere. New York was the first state to make it an official day of remembrance - a holiday - but not until 1873.
It was recognized by all northern states and finally the southern states - who had honored their dead on different days until the end of World War I. Today it's celebrated on the last Monday in May, making the federal holiday a three-day weekend. Although it's a nationwide holiday now, the southern states continue to honor their confederate war dead on an additional day of tribute: April 26th here in Georgia.
The edict issued on that day in May 1868 included deeply solemn, reverent and poetic words addressed to a recovering nation:
"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.
Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic."
Any visit to any town in America this coming Monday will give ample evidence that we have not "forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic."
At Arlington National Cemetery, approximately 275,000 flags will be placed at each grave on Memorial Day. It's a small but very meaningful tribute to all who lie beneath the white crosses. We are a very grateful nation; and I'm sure they knew they could count on that going in.
AR Correspondent Constance Daley is based on St. Simons Island, Ga. She has just published her third collections of articles for AR, "Sidewalks and Sand," available from A HREF="http://www.amazon.com">Amazon.