There are many stories as to the actual beginnings of Memorial Day, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of the idea. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. The first Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays).
Presently hundreds, if not thousands, of Memorial Day services are held across the United States. The rural Vincent Cemetery is located seven miles northwest of Luray, Kansas, and has held a Memorial Day service on the Sunday morning preceding the holiday for several years. Heavy fog punctuated this year's service, which was led by local resident and U.S. Navy veteran Warren Fallis. His brief remarks came from the heart and were warmly received. The service concluded as the eternal 24 notes of "Taps" rang out over the 260 graves in the small cemetery.
U.S. Navy veteran Warren Fallis collects his thoughts beneath the U.S. flag in the Vincent Cemetery.
Over the decades Memorial Day has also come to mean a time to remember all the dead buried in the nation's cemeteries. It is traditional to take the time and decorate graves with flowers and at least this one time each year to take a moment and remember past lives. In the Vincent Cemetery alone lie over 85 relatives and friends of my family on both my mother and father's lines, and by the time my sister and I had finished decorating the graves there our shoes were well soaked from all the moisture. Of course it perhaps took us a little longer than it otherwise would, as we also decorated a number of graves we have "adopted" over the years just to ensure that they are not forgotten as well.
The afternoon found us in Osborne, Kansas, to decorate graves there in the city cemetery. By now the fog had burned away and bright sunshine was everywhere. Peonie bushes, a perennial favorite for a living memorial to the dead, were in spectacular bloom this year. Many of these bushes are now several decades old. Here as well it took over an hour to adorn and thus remember those gone as several other families all around us were doing the same.