May 21, 2018

Thinking about Memorial Day

 Several places have called themselves the birthplace of Memorial
Day (sometimes called Decoration Day) but in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo as the official birthplace. On May 5, 1866, there was a ceremony to honor local veterans who had fought in the Civil War.  It was a community wide event; businesses closed and residents flew the American flag. By the end of the 19th century Memorial Day ceremonies were held nationwide on May 30 and after WW I the day was expanded to include all those who died in American wars. In 1971 it was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. 

Waterloo is home to the National Memorial Day Museum which has extensive exhibits detailing Memorial Day, its founding, and includes those who were instrumental in organizing the first event.  It is the perfect place to celebrate Memorial Day.  This year from Thursday, May 25 to Tuesday, May 30 there will be a variety of events including arts and craft vendors, a Civil War encampment with featured impersonators, a 5K Race, a car show, and military services in the village cemeteries. No Memorial Day event would be complete without a parade. The Waterloo parade will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. 

There are many ways to remember our veterans on Memorial Day. Did you ever notice that most towns and cities have Civil War soldier statues in their park or cemetery?  Look closely, they all look alike. It seem a few years after the Civil War a New England monument company created the statues and sold them to town and cities in both the North and South. It was years before people realized they all had identical statues.  At that time the monument company changed them so they better reflected the soldiers of the North and South.

Many Memorial Day celebrations include a reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The 272-word speech is one of American’s most famous. Lincoln, even though he was the president was not the keynote speaker; the great orator, Edward Everett was.  During the speech a burial party was interring people nearby adding to the somber occasion. If you haven’t been to Gettysburg put it on your summer “to-do” list. If you visit during Memorial Day weekend there will be a parade at 2 p.m. that will end at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where there will be a ceremony at 3 p.m. That weekend there will be historic walking tours and Living History attractions.
Not far away is the Eisenhower National Historic Site, home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  It is adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield. When John and I visited we were impressed at how “middle class” the house seemed.  

Of course, the Mall in Washington is where veterans of all wars are immortalized. While the Vietnam War memorial gets the most attention I liked the Korean War memorial the best because it shows soldiers in action. 

Regardless of how you plan to spend the weekend there will be a parade nearby you can attend and, most likely, some ceremony in a local cemetery.  When visiting a cemetery take time to walk around and observe the monuments; they are history preserved in stone.  Many veterans have special plaques on their stones. You might notice that many died in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed an estimated 20 to 50 million worldwide including nearly 700,000 Americans.