By MIKE WEST
Memorial Day is a holiday usually celebrated for the wrong reasons.
Many of us, myself included, usually think of Memorial Day as the first day of summer. Most of us celebrate it with picnics, short weekend trips or by watching the Indy 500. For the younger set, Memorial Day celebrates the end of the school year. All of these are joyous events.
But the true origin of the holiday is something far more sobering. Memorial Day The event was originally called “Decoration Day” and marked a day of remembrance for our Civil War dead.
The practice of decorating veterans’ graves began in the South during the Civil War, but at wars end, the memorials had spread nation wide. It took on a more official air in 1868 when the commander-in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic issued a proclamation calling for Decoration Day to be observed nationally. The GAR was an organization, fraternal in nature, formed by Union veterans of the Civil War.
May 30 was the date selected for Decoration Day, not to commemorate any certain battle, but because it was an optimum time for flowers to be in bloom. In some parts of the county, the day was also marked by parades and picnics.
At Stones River National Cemetery, a railroad stop was build for families arriving by train for Decoration Day activities. A band-stand was also built for speech-making and musical entertainment for Decoration Day. But it is important to remember that only Union dead were buried in the national cemeteries.
In the South, the Ladies Memorial Association and the Daughters of the Confederacy orchestrated the events.
In Murfreesboro, a cemetery was founded for unknown Confederate dead from the battle of Stones River and various other conflicts in Middle Tennessee. Eventually, the graves were moved to Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro where memorial ceremonies are still held each year.
But for the most part, the remains of Confederate casualties were buried at family or church cemeteries throughout the South.
Gradually, the name of the holiday changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day” after World War II. By then the date of the holiday was generally considered May 30.
In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson officially named the holiday Memorial Day. The following year, Congress passed what was known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday. As a result Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May.
Veterans groups opposed the change, saying it undermined the significance of the day by transforming Memorial Day into the unofficial start of summer.
Visitors to Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro experienced the holiday in a more traditional way with the decorating of each grave at the national cemetery with an American flag. There is also the Healing Field, flags of remembrance held each year in Murfreesboro.
Most of us, on the other hand, celebrated the holiday the modern way with a cook-out or traveling on the long weekend. We should have remembered our losses.
We are appreciative of the many notes, emails and visitors thanking the newspaper’s staff for its annual Cannon Courier Hall of Fame and All Sports Banquet.
It was a fantastic event and while I can’t take any credit I do know about all the hard work that went into the banquet. And what a great location for it! The Arts Center of Cannon County was the perfect venue. And the food provided by the Blue Porch Cafe was delicious.
Now we are back at work planning the event for next year at the perfect location.
We are also preparing a special edition tabloid that will feature photos of all the winners including Hall of Famers Alan Bush, Al Smith, Beth (Stewart) Stark, Gloria (Parker) Stewart, Bill Smith and Bonnie (Hoover) Patterson.
Watch for it!