Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, traditionally marks the beginning of summer. But the true meaning of the holiday is much more than that.
Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War and began as a way to remember and honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who were killed in battle. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. On that day, at Arlington National Cemetery, Logan declared in General Order No. 11:
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…
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 vandalism of avarice of neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic…
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor…
After WWI, Memorial Day was extended to honor Americans who died in all wars. Today many Americans use this holiday to decorate all graves, whether the deceased served in the military or not. For more information about the history of Memorial Day visit Memorial Day History.
Memorial Day was declared a US federal holiday in 1971 and is now observed the last Monday in May, which falls on May 27th this year.
In December 2000 the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed. This asks all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’ ” at 3:00 local time.
Most towns in our area, including Willshire, Rockford, and Celina, will have Memorial Day parades followed by ceremonies at local cemeteries. The ceremonies are usually conducted by the local American Legion or VFW, who also mark all veterans’ graves with an American flag. In Willshire there will be a display of military uniforms, photos, flags, maps and letters of local servicemen. This display will be at the Willshire Home Furnishings store this coming Saturday-Monday.
Proper American flag etiquette should be observed this weekend. The American flag should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day and then raised to full-staff. During a parade there may be several participants with a flag and it is appropriate to salute only the first flag as it passes by. As the first flag passes everyone should show respect by standing at attention with their right hand over their heart. Those in uniform should give their appropriate formal salute.
The red poppy has been associated with Memorial Day for over 90 years. Since 1922 VFW members and American Legion Auxiliary volunteers have distributed red poppies on Memorial Day weekend in exchange for a contribution to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans. This tradition originated with Moina Michael in 1915. She was inspired by the poem ”In Flanders Fields” and came up with the idea to wear a red poppy on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving our nation during war. She sold poppies to her friends and co-workers and the money went to needy service men. By 1922 the VFW had taken on the project. You can read more about this tradition at The Story Behind the Poppy.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
—Moina Michael, 1915.
The following is a list of my collateral ancestors who died while serving our country:
Hallet Bryan (c1836-13 Sep 1863) was the son of Peter and Mary (Huey) Bryan of Jay County, Indiana, and was my 3rd great-granduncle. Private Bryan served in Company E, 89th Regiment, Indiana Infantry and was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. He is buried in the Memphis National Cemetery.
Daniel Schumm (2 Mar 1840-8 Feb 1863) was the son of Johann “Jacob” and Hannah (Billman) Schumm and was my 1st cousin 3 times removed. Corporal Daniel Schumm served in the 52nd OVI and never returned home from the Civil War.
John Schumm (30 Mar 1843-28 Oct 1864) was the son of George Martin & Maria (Pflueger) Schumm and was my 1st cousin 3 times removed. Corporal John Schumm served in Company A, 60th OVI. He was wounded and captured in Virginia during the Battle of Petersburg and was imprisoned at Salisbury, North Carolina, where he died.
Carl Schumm was the son of Rev. Ferdinand and Wilhelmina (Brockmeyer) Schumm and was my 2nd cousin twice removed. He was killed in France during WWI.
Ralph J. Derrickson (5 Apr 1925-15 Jan 1945) was the son of Ralph and Alpha (Brewster) Derrickson and was my 1st cousin once removed. Private Derrickson served in the 99th Infantry Division during WWII and was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg.
Edgar Schumm (18 Nov 1914-13 Nov 1944) was the son of William & Amanda (Reidenbach) Schumm and was my 3rd cousin once removed. He was killed while serving in WWII.
Victor Schueler (23 Jan 1924-3 Aug 1945) was the son of Adolph and Marie (Limbach) Schueler and was my 4th cousin. Private First Class Schueler was a member of the 85th Mountain Regiment, 10th Mountaineer Division and was killed in Italy during WWII.
Emanuel George Roehm (3 Aug 1931-23 Apr 1951) was the son of Emanuel George and Esther (Ohnesorge) Roehm and was my 4th cousin. Private First Class Roehm was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was killed in action while fighting in Korea. Roehm was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. (source: Ancestry.com. WWI, WWII, and Korean War Casualty Listings [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.)
Corey Wayne Ellenberger (19 Oct 1946-12 Jan 1967) was the son of Kenneth & Nola (Charleston) Ellenberger and was my 2nd cousin. Private First Class Ellenberger served as a rifleman in Company L, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and was killed in South Vietnam. (source: National Archives and Records Administration. Vietnam War: U.S. Military Casualties, 1956-1998 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.)
And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave. –Joseph Drake
This Memorial Day, amid the family gatherings, the cookouts and the sales, take a moment to remember the real meaning of this holiday.