Just as Labor Day brings an end to the summer, Memorial Day kicks off the season for vacations, spending time with family and picnics.
Although it started after the Civil War to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who had died, Memorial Day was extended by the 20th century to include all American soldiers and observed as a federal holiday the last Monday in May.
An excerpt from the Savannah Republican, a tabloid newspaper, July 21, 1862, entitled “A Beautiful Tribute”:
“Yesterday being the anniversary of the Battle of Manassas, a number of ladies went to Laurel Grove Cemetery and commemorated the day by appropriately decorating the graves of the gallant Bartow and his comrades in arms who fell in the memorable struggle of the 21st of July.
“It is a fir task for noble woman, and we hope her patriotism and love for the dear departed will move her annually to lay these beautiful tributes on the resting places of the brave.”
This story, an authentic documentation that women in Savannah decorated Confederate soldiers’ graves in 1862, affirms the practice that was called “Decoration Day.”
Following the assassination in April 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln, a variety of events of commemoration took place.
Another close-to-home occurrence happened in Charleston on May 1, 1865, when the first widely-publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type celebration took place by African Americans recently freed from slavery. It involved cleaning and landscaping a place where Union prisoners had died and been hastily buried in unmarked graves.
This spot, turned into a park, sits adjacent to the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, and cadets can be seen jogging there any day of the week. The story was noted in an article written by David W. Blight, author of several books concerning the Civil War and a teacher of American history at Yale University.
It is a traditional observance on Memorial Day for the flag of the United States to be raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon and is raised for the remainder of the day.
On Memorial Day, certain monuments and statues relating to American history are noted and visited. One is John Seward Johnson II’s 25-foot sculpture of the famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt on Aug. 14, 1945, titled “V-J Day in Times Square,” as the announcement of the end of the war with Japan was made by President Harry S. Truman.
Also known as “The Kiss,” two sculpted versions can be seen in San Diego and Sarasota, Fla., where I was wowed by the view and quickly took a photo.
It was heartening to read that local nonprofit organization Honor Flight Savannah recently treated a group of veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital to visit monuments dedicated to their military service.
The organization shuttles veterans to Washington at least once a year, but this year was the first time it included those who served in Vietnam.
The group of 50 veterans gathered at Hunter Army Airfield for the happy sendoff amid more than 100 uniformed soldiers, Marines and airmen who had gathered to wish the departing veterans a good trip.
This event, along with May 8 being the 70th anniversary of World War II ending in Europe (V-E Day) and ceremonies commemorated the milestone, was like a pre-celebration for Memorial Day. Have a safe and memorable day!
Celebrate Memorial Day
May 24, 2015
By: Jean Tanner