For many of us, the observance of the fourth Monday in May has taken on special significance during our lifetimes. The long-term conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, have affected so many families and individuals right here in our community. Memorial Day also rekindles memories of our past, not only the aftermath of more dated conflicts, but also of customs observed during our childhood and beyond.
This most sacred holiday is more than just one of our current three-day weekends. Sure, it is great to celebrate spring, attend family gatherings, have barbecues, take part in parades and celebrate our brave veterans. But there are many who use the holiday as a reminder of lost loved ones; another chance to heal from the hurt of lives cut far too short; families torn apart; the agony of mourning for wives, husbands, children, parents and people of all ages and walks of life. They not only remember their fallen, they also live their entire lives with the reoccurring thoughts and dreams of “what could have been” while replaying memories in their minds. It is a chance for closure, but it doesn’t come for many.
I remember growing up in the rural Midwest in an era when every May 30th was Decoration Day. The whole family went to the little cemetery by our old, wooden 1850s church. Families gathered to clean all the grave sites, headstones and the entire grounds. As I grew older, I learned that not only is Memorial Day a chance to remember our loved ones, it also is a chance to honor our military.
Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it was known then, came about during the Civil War. In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pa., put flowers on the graves of their dead from the Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, they were joined by a group of ladies in decorating the graves of their soldiers in a Vicksburg, Miss., cemetery. In 1866, women from Columbus, Miss., laid flowers on the graves of soldiers from both the North and the South. At the time, it was recognized as an act to help heal regional wounds from the war.
In the same month in Carbondale, Ill., 219 Civil War veterans marched through the town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where war hero Maj. Gen. John Logan delivered the first keynote address. The ceremony gave this city the claim of being the birthplace of the first organized, communitywide “Decoration Day” observance.
It was the people of Waterloo, N.Y., however, who began holding an annual community service May 5, 1866, which won the congressional recognition as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
In the South, one of the earliest observances was in Charleston, S.C. In 1865, Negro freedmen celebrated at the current location of Hampton Park. During the war, the site was used as a temporary Confederate prison camp, which held the mass grave of Union soldiers who died there.
After the war was over, these freedmen and their families exhumed the bodies in the mass grave, reinterred them into individual graves surrounded by a fence and declared it a Union cemetery.
On May 1, 1865, a group of 10,000 mostly black residents, including 2,800 children, created the first Decoration Day-type celebration with services that included sermons, singing and a picnic.
Arlington National Cemetery observed its first Memorial Day on May 30, 1868. Logan, then president of the Grand Army of the Republic Organization, officially proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day. The name was changed to Memorial Day in 1884, and Congress officially sanctioned it in 1967. In 1968, the National Holidays Act changed the date to the last Monday in May.
The Stephen Ministry Team at First Baptist Church in Hinesville salutes all veterans serving everywhere — especially those brave men and women who unselfishly sacrificed their lives so that we can live free and feel protected in this great country.
Most of us with the Stephen Ministry team are veterans, and we are trained to help make a difference to those who carry the burdens of loss. We understand and are here for you. Please call 320-7840 to make an appointment with a trained, faith-based man or woman to help you or someone you know with issues of closure and distress. We can help walk you through your feelings and try to help you or someone you love find answers.