Good Morning. Thank You for the opportunity to share some thoughts and history of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to honor the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, General Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:
The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every 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.
During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. In fact, several Northern and Southern cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Pa.; and Carbondale, Ill.
In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo—which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.)
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually and today a delegation of Gila River veterans is at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA to honor the contributions of our late warrior Ira Hamilton Hayes.
I want to express my sincerest appreciation to all our veterans in all branches of armed services. I especially want to thank our Native American Warriors – in wars past and present – who have sacrificed their lives to make this country a free nation. I also want to thank our Native American Warriors – our sons and daughters – that are currently serving in the Iraqi War and those that are stationed throughout the world. I hope and pray for their safety and return to their Tribal Homelands. Throughout military history, our Native Warriors have been patriotic and have been the first to volunteer to protect their homelands in the United States. They serve as proud warriors to protect their homes and their loved ones – to protect our freedom.
Today, we remember our beloved sons and daughters – for their acts of heroism, for their legacy, and for representing all Native Nations. If you know a veteran and they don’t know you, give them a hug and let them know you appreciate their service.
May Heavenly Father Bless You, Our Community and Our Country.