It’s the month of May and summer will officially be here soon. The kids will finish up with school, then proceed to drive us crazy, because they have nothing to do. Even after we suggest they go outside and play sports or read books or solve puzzles or analyze problems. But with this month, May, there is a Federal Holiday, a 3-day weekend! A three-day weekend at the beginning of summer usually means: Bar-B-Que!!! Alright! I’ll get the checklist out to be sure I have everything I need for this official opening of summer Bar-B-Q. Let’s see; hotdogs, hamburgers, buns, chicken, corn on the cob, mustard, ketchup, relish, potato salad, paper plates, plastic silverware, picnic tablecloths, napkins, Ice-Tea, Kool-Aide, and of course, the grill. I’ll need to check the grill to be sure it’s clean, and I have enough charcoal or propane and my grilling tools are not too rusty from sitting in the garage all winter. Now what am I forgetting? Don’t tell me, let me ponder. Oh, I think the big question is: “Why are we having Memorial Day and what does it mean? Besides another 3-day weekend.”
Much of the following information has been obtained by reading articles by Maynard Edwards, Chris Hodapp, Greg Knott, and David Ross. (Editor's Note: I can share these referenced materials upon request.)
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, which comes in November. Memorial Day used to be a day where local newspapers would publish articles about a few hometown war heroes, maybe put their picture next to the article; maybe the article will be on page 2, if the veteran is lucky; maybe the article will include a brief summary of their military career and some of the things they did while on active duty and what they have done since leaving the military. But now days, there’s hardly a hometown newspaper to print such an article. And if you dig a little deeper, perhaps on social media, you might find comments posted from family members who just want more than anything else for their veteran loved one to simply be remembered, if only for one day of the year.
Well, how did all this Memorial Day stuff even start?
When it first came about, in 1868, when it was first observed, it was called “Decoration Day.” It was meant to provide a time of remembrance for those members of the military who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.” Today, across the nation, wreaths are laid, taps are played, the colors are lowered by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and of course, Masonic Lodges.
Masonic Lodges you say? Yes! You have a fellow mason to thank for it. His name was Brother John Alexander Logan. He was born on February 9, 1826, and died on December 26, 1886, just 60 years old. He was an American soldier and politician. He served in wars and rose from the rank of Private to Major General.
Bro Logan was raised in Mitchell Lodge No. 85 (AF&AM) of Pinckneyville, IL, and affiliated with other lodges and many masonic organizations in Illinois, including the York Rite and Scottish Rite in Chicago.
Apparently, Bro Logan was something. He founded and was the 2nd Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. The Grand Army of the Republic was a veteran’s group made up of former Union soldiers. At its peak, the Grand Army of the Republic boasted 490,000 members, but was disbanded in 1956, when the last member passed away.
As I said, the Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization that promoted Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty as its basic premises, sound familiar? Many members of the Grand Army of the Republic were Freemasons. I have read the rituals of the Grand Army and saw quite a resemblance to our Masonic rituals, not word for word, but enough to be able to recognize, there were similarities, including a solemn obligation.
The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves predates Bro Logan’s order, which I’ll read shortly. The tradition was first observed by a lady’s group in Savannah, Georgia, who made it a point to annually place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers.
One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies was held at the close of Civil War by mostly freed African Americans in Charleston, SC, to honor their fallen companions and soldiers with parade at the local racetrack.
Bro Logan is regarded as the most important figure in the movement to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday. After Bro/General Logan’s order, Michigan was the first state to make Decoration Day an official state holiday. Bro Logan chose May 30 to be the day to be designated as the date of Decoration Day, because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.
Bro Logan was said to be intense. Here is Gen Logan’s Grand Army of the Republic General Order 11, as I suspect he may have delivered it:
The 30th day 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. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades, will in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind of fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives, were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”
General Order # 11.
In 1868, this day was called Decoration Day. In 1967 the name was changed to Memorial Day. And in 1971 it was changed to be observed on the last Monday in May and be a national holiday.
In Indianapolis, there is a Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial along the banks of the canal downtown. It has all the names and a few stories of the 3,506 recipients (with 3525 awarded, some multiples) since the Medal's creation in 1861.
But as amazing and heroic and tragic and heartbreaking as those histories are, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don't always receive big, impressive medals before or after they don't make it home. Most of them don't, and their stories don't always get memorialized. For every story we hear about, there are hundreds we never do. They have families and histories that need to be remembered too, beyond just a name on a forgotten stone in a grassy field somewhere nobody visits very often. Even on a special holiday just for them.
Please remember all those thousands upon thousands of men and women whose names never got in the paper, except perhaps for a brief obituary, who have given so much for all of us.
It is incumbent upon all of us sitting here today, and for our families, and for our friends, to never forget the veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for those veterans who still serve today, and those that will serve tomorrow, to remember the significance of and the profound meaning of what Memorial Day is.