Memorial Day - 156 Years Later

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott

Photo Credit: Greg Knott

Memorial Day for most people marks the beginning of summer. Often celebrated by backyard BBQ parties, trips to the lake, or a day at the pool, it often seems that the original purpose of Memorial Day has been forgotten.

The history of the beginning of Memorial Day has several towns taking credit for holding the first celebration. One of the more interesting and compelling stories of the first Memorial Day took place after the Battle of Charleston in 1865 when a group of African Americans who had been freed from enslavement held a parade around the Charleston horse track. Newspaper accounts say that a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch marches by the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment and listen to bible verses read by Black ministers. You can read the entire story here:

Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day, when General John A. Logan, the leader of the Grand Army of the Republic declared “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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Congress made this an official public holiday in 1971.

156 years later what does Memorial Day mean to us, the American people? Why does it still matter to remember those who fell and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom?

Memorial Day is a commemoration of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. They were young and were the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives of our fellow Americans. Not coming home left a void in the lives of their family and friends. They did not get the chance to see their children grow up, attend the ball games, scout meetings, church events, family reunions. Missed seeing their daughter walk down the aisle or their son bringing home that special girl that would later become his wife. They did not know their grandchildren or perhaps great-grandchildren. This is what Memorial Day means to the American people.

Why should we still need to remember these fallen on Memorial Day? I urge you to simply look around at what their sacrifice provided to all of us. A magnificent nation based on ideals that make us the envy of the world. The freedom to raise our families and to accomplish our dreams and aspirations. The ability to worship as we choose. The chance to attend those ball games, scout meetings, etc.

It seems harder now for society to remember those who fell on our behalf. We are distracted by social media, politics, and just “being busy”. But I urge you to take one moment and think about all those who never returned home. Go visit your local cemetery and simply read the names of some of those who served. Volunteer to help make your community a better place. Conduct an act of kindness to someone that will make our society more civil. Tell someone "Thank You". Tell someone that you love them.

Take a moment to remember and be thankful and their sacrifice will not have been in vain.


WB Gregory J. Knott is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at

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