Memorial Day weekend starts early in the Jones house, as we head north this afternoon for our now-annual three-day volleyball tournament at Penn State. It’s a great experience for all the girls — over 700 teams, I think, from all over the East Coast — as they get to stay in the dorms and live like college students for three days. God help them.
Enjoy your weekend — but while you’ve got the grill fired up, take a moment to remember what this holiday is all about. A bit of context, you ask? You got it.
On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, a decorated veteran of the Civil War, issued General Order Number 11, declaring May 30, 1868 as “Decoration Day.” On that date, the graves of Civil War soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery — regardless of whether those soldiers served in the Union or Confederacy — would be decorated with flowers.
Logan’s order was not without precedent. On May 5, 1866, at the prompting of local druggist named Henry C. Wells, the town of Waterloo, New York became the first community to declare a formal Memorial Day to remember its Civil War dead. In the 1960s, the Congress and President Lyndon Johnson made Waterloo’s claim as the birthplace of Memorial Day official, by designating Waterloo, NY, as the hometown of Memorial Day. There’s even a Memorial Day museum there you can visit. Pretty neat.
Anyway, getting back to Logan and Decoration Day: in 1873, the State of New York — perhaps inspired by the example at Waterloo –was the first to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday; by 1890, all northern states had also fallen in line. It would take longer, and another war, for the Southern states — which viewed the celebration as a bit of a nose-rubbing — to come around. After World War I, the South recognized it as a day to commemorate soliders who had fallen in any war (some states, however, still declare separate holidays to honor Confederate dead).
In 2000, President Clinton issued a Presidential Proclamation asking Americans to reaffirm the true meaning of Memorial Day by observing a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day. Not a bad idea — but those who we’re remembering also gave you the right to celebrate the day as you like. Remember them in your own way — but please remember them.