In 1865, Henry Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, NY, mentioned at a social gathering that honor should be shown to the patriotic dead of the Civil War by decorating their graves.
In the spring of 1866, he brought the subject up to General John B. Murray, the County Clerk. General Murray embraced the idea, and a committee was quickly assembled to plan a special day devoted to honoring the dead. The townspeople adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Wreaths, crosses and bouquets were specifically made for each veteran's grave. The village was decorated with flags at half-mast and draped with evergreen boughs and black (mourning) streamers.
On May 5, 1866, several civic groups joined a solemn procession to the three existing cemeteries in Waterloo, led by veterans marching to military music. Impressive services were conducted at each cemetery, including speeches by General Murray and a local minister. The ceremonies were repeated the following year.
The first official recognition of Memorial Day was issued by General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. On 5 May 1868, exactly two years after Waterloo's first observance, General Order No. 11 officially established "Decoration Day" (as it was then known). That year Waterloo joined other communities by conducting their memorial ceremonies on May 30.
Since May of 1866, America has set aside a solemn day of remembrance for her war dead.
In the years following the Civil War, the U.S. has suffered the loss of 651,008 military personnel in all wars (excluding the current war in Iraq/Afghanistan).
A WWII veteran recently remarked, "It is not merely about the dead… but those who were left behind… wives who lost husbands… sons and daughters who lost parents… It is about remembering the tremendous sacrifices paid by all!"
Tom Brokaw aptly described those who served in WWII (along with the families that supported them at home) as The Greatest Generation. Ian Drake dubbed them: The Men Who Saved the Western World.
It is estimated that of the 16.4 million Americans that served in World War II, only about 3.5 million are still living, the youngest being about 80 years of age. We are losing our remaining WWII veterans at a rate of nearly 1,500 per day.
I want (and need) to say to our sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers (not to mention the thousands of brave women that have served our country in wartime) - THANK YOU FOR FIGHTING TO KEEP US FREE! May God bless YOU... and AMERICA!
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Jesus, always Jesus!