During this holiday weekend as everyone plans out their backyard BBQs or packs for their camping trips, let's take a moment to remember why we have an extra day off work. I decided to read up on the history of Memorial Day and I discovered a couple of important characters in history that I had never heard of.
The first was General John (Black Jack) Logan from southern Illinois. No one is positive of Memorial Day's exact beginning but it was made official by General Logan as the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5th, 1868 when he issued General Order No. 11. It was originally called "Decoration Day" to honor those who died in the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression if you live in the South). The day chosen for Decoration Day was May 30th being a day that had no major Civil War battles. In General Logan's General Orders No.11 he declared the day
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.
General Logan goes on to say:
Even though the first Decoration Day included around 5,000 attendees and a speech at Arlington National Cemetery by President Garfield, New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890, all northern states recognized the day, but southern states refused and instead had separate days to honor their Civil War dead until after WWI when the holiday was redefined to honor those who died in any war instead of just the Civil War.
For decades, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th each year until Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in June 1968, moving four holidays from their traditional date to a specified Monday to create some three day weekends for those overworked government employees. The law went into effect in 1971 but there is a strong movement to get Memorial Day changed back to May 30th because, as the VFW puts it
The second and third unknown (to me) historical figures I ran across contributed to the tradition of red poppies on Memorial Day. Moina Michael penned a short poem inspired by the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" in 1915 and then had the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She started selling them to raise money for servicemen in need of assistance and the idea spread. When a visitor from France, Madam Guerin, learned of the tradition, she began making artificial poppies and selling them to support those orphaned by war. Madam Querin is the one who eventually approached the VFW for assistance and they began their "Buddy" Poppy program to raise money for disabled veterans in the 1920s.
Today, Memorial Day seems to have lost some of its importance, but is still marked by ceremonies in towns everywhere. I hope you will go find one near you or find some way to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country as well as think of those family members they left behind.
Information for this post came from the following websites:
In the sidebar, I mention that I am a veteran. I served in Iraq with the US Army Reserve. Today I had the honor of speaking at a local school for their Veterans Day Ceremony. I thought for my post today, I would just tell you what I said to them. The following is, more or less, my speech from this morning. Thank you to everyone who has served and thank you for all of the gratitude I've received from friends and family today.
Thanks for having me here. My name is Dave Lubke. I used to be in the 983rd Engineer Battalion out of Toledo, and I had the honor of being the commander of Charlie Company for Operation Iraqi Freedom III. Ten years ago now, I was getting very anxious to return home to my wife and my 2-year old son. I had just lost my third soldier of the tour; Thanksgiving was coming up and we were hoping to be home for Christmas.
This past weekend, my niece in Chicago called me up because she needed to interview a veteran for a school project. She started off with some of the basics like what branch of service, what rank were you, what job title did you have, and where did you go. One of her questions kind of hit me though. She said, “Do you remember what it was like when you arrived there?” I replied “Absolutely!”. It was a very long flight from Indiana to Kuwait and it was the 27th of December here when we left. We stopped in Germany on the way. When the plane landed in Kuwait, I looked at my watch and it was exactly five minutes before my 31st birthday. We stayed up all night to try to get adjusted to the time change, so I guess it was probably the longest birthday I’ve ever had.
I could go on for hours about what we did in Iraq, but what I want to highlight today is the impact that the US Army has had on my life. First, I grew up on a farm and there were 7 kids. My parents didn’t have a lot of money available to send me to college. I received an Army ROTC scholarship and was able to go get a degree in Mechanical Engineering from a private university that I never would have been able to go to otherwise. It was all paid for by the Army and the university. The best part was that I met my wife there.
The Army has taught me leadership skills in ways you can’t learn in a classroom. I’ve traveled around for the Army and met people from all over the world. I was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for some training and worked with officers from Greece, Latvia, Jordan, and a few other countries. After spending a year in a war zone, I have lifelong friends that I share an indescribable bond with that you cannot get anywhere else. The US Army, and probably the other branches of service too, reward things like initiative, creativity, and hard work unlike any other organization does. You can have the opportunity to be put in positions of responsibility you will never get in the corporate world. I am still sometimes in awe of the responsibility I was entrusted with. I was responsible for 130 soldiers and millions of dollars in equipment. These people and their families were looking to me to bring them to a war and back alive. I regret that I was not able to live up to that expectation for some of them.
If you caught it at the beginning of my speech, I mentioned that I had lost three soldiers. Today, I ask that we all honor the memory of SGT Andy Eckert, SPC Kendall Frederick, and SFC Matt Kading as well as all of the men and women who have worn a uniform in defense of the freedom that we enjoy today. Thank you.
My family uses Cozi for our calendar, shopping, and to-do lists. The best part is that it's free.
Copyright Dave Lubke and www.davelubke.com, 2020
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