By Allister Townson-Muse
At the end of the Civil War, a group of military men established an organization called “The Grand Army of the Republic”, (G.A.R.) which was dedicated to the needs of disabled enlisted men, pensioners, war widows and orphans. This association felt that it was their responsibility to provide fellowship to enlisted men and to encourage them to share their memories and experiences. For the families of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice, the G.A.R. offered financial and emotional support.
The G.A.R. became one of the first organized groups in American politics, supporting causes such as Veterans pensions, voting rights for black Veterans, patriotic education and numerous other causes. In 1868, G.A.R. commander, Major General John A. Logan declared May 30th as the annual day of honoring those who had fought and died for their country.
The first national celebration of Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was held at ex Confederate Army Commander, General Robert E. Lee’s former home. The Arlington mansion was the center of the celebration where the verandas were draped with mourning bunting and military bands played throughout the day. Dignitaries were in attendance to present their speeches, choirs sang inspirational hymns and military songs. A huge parade with over 4000 marchers proceeded to Arlington National Cemetery where flowers and flags adorned both Union and Confederate graves.
Originally, only Civil War Veterans were honored, but at the end of World War I the holiday changed to include American military personnel who died in all wars. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. As a federal holiday, part of the ceremonies call for the President of the United States to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
Throughout our Nation’s history, servicemen and women have fought and died to defend our freedoms. Freedom of speech, of religion, the right to assemble, the right to bear arms, the right to vote, and many more. Our country, truly is a melting pot and as citizens of the United States, we are fortunate to live in this amazing county with all the advantages it provides.
But we as Americans, also have responsibilities of our own which include, preserving and protecting our country, providing a better future for our children, to uphold the “golden rule” (treat others the way you want to be treated), and to always honor and respect our fallen veterans and active military.
So, on this Memorial Day let’s take a moment out of our day to remember the men and women who fought so valiantly and the gave the ultimate price for us to live free.