Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts on "Decoration Day"

If you have ever driven west from downtown Cleveland along the shore of Lake Erie, you might have taken the West Shoreway to Clifton Boulevard to Lake Road out to Bay Village. If you did that, you would have followed a portion of U.S. Route 6. 

U.S. Route 6 is known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway for its entire length from Massachusetts to California, obviously including the portion I described above. The Grand Army of the Republic, in turn, was a now-defunct fraternal organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. And it was this organization that began the tradition of setting aside one day in late May to remember our nation's war dead.

As it was originally conceived, "Decoration Day" was supposed to be always on May 30th, not on the last Monday in May. The full text of the GAR Order that was issued calling for the establishment of Decoration Day is available here. It calls for GAR members to decorate "with the choicest flowers of spring-time" the graves of Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. 

It was not until after World War II that the holiday became more commonly known as Memorial Day. And it was not until Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90-363) that Memorial Day was moved from May 30th to the current last Monday in May. In fact, there is a movement underway by veterans' groups to return Memorial Day to its traditional May 30th observance. That link will take you to an online petition calling for passage of a bill restoring Memorial Day to May 30th, which if you click it you'll see lots of signatures from today. Which proves, I guess, that politics never takes a rest. 

On whatever day it is observed, Memorial Day is a day reserved for honoring our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this country and the freedom we all enjoy. Thanks for your service, vets. And I hope everyone had a nice holiday. Tomorrow, it's back to work. 

1 comment:

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Here is a post about a GAR encampment at Put in Bay in 1869: