Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

On this day in 1868, a crowd of 5,000 gathers at Arlington National Cemetery for the first Decoration Day. This day is now known as Memorial Day.

It was a few weeks earlier, on May 5, that General John A. Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance.
General Logan stated: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Then, at Arlington, James A Garfield, who would become the 20th president, addressed the crowd:
“The faith of our people in the stability and permanence of their institutions was like their faith in the eternal course of nature. Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons; and all sprang from a single source, the old American principle that all owe due submission and obedience to the lawfully expressed will of the majority. This is not one of the doctrines of our political system—it is the system itself. It is our political firmament, in which all other truths are set, as stars in Heaven. It is the encasing air, the breath of the Nation’s life.”

Later, he added: “The voices of these dead will forever fill the land like holy benedictions.”… [H]ere let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!

“We honor… we pray…”

More recently, in his Presidential Proclamation Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 1966, President Lyndon B Johnson said:
“On this Memorial Day, as we honor the memory of brave men who have borne our colors in war, we pray to God for His mercy. We pray for the wisdom to find a way to end this struggle of nation against nation, of brother against brother. We pray that soon we may begin to build the only true memorial to man’s valor in war — a sane and hopeful environment for the generations to come.”

He then went on to “urge all of the people of this Nation to join me in prayer to the Almighty for the safety of our Nation’s sons and daughters…, for His blessing on those who have sacrificed their lives for this Nation in this and all other struggles, and for His aid in building a world where freedom and justice prevail, and where all men live in friendship, understanding, and peace.

Indeed, may we pray similarly for all present and future struggles. Finally, may you  have a blessed and reflective Memorial Day.

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Veterans Day seals
Veterans Day seals
Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution that the “anniversary… should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”

So, at a dedication ceremony for a liberty memorial on Armistice Day in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge remarked that “[i]n each recurring year this day will be set aside to revive memories and renew ideals.” [emphasis added]

Next, he concluded his remarks this way:
“If the American spirit fails, what hope has the world? In the hour of our triumph and power we can not escape the need for sober thought and consecrated action. These dead whom we here commemorate have placed their trust in us. Their living comrades have made their sacrifice in the belief that we would not fail. In the consciousness of that trust and that belief this memorial stands as our pledge to their faith, a holy testament that our country will continue to do its duty under the guidance of a Divine Providence.”

“Let us Remember…”

Years later, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower legally changed the name of the federal holiday with his Veterans Day Proclamation. Here is an excerpt:

“On [November 11] let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Finally, the national ceremony commences with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb was dedicated on this day in 1921.
Unknown Soldier Known But to God

Unknown Soldier

On this day in 1921, in the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne in France, decorated U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger selects the first “Unknown Soldier.”

Sergeant Younger had been wounded in combat, and was a recipient of the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Earlier that year, on March 4, Congress approved the burial of an “unknown” American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the Memorial Amphitheater.

So, four bodies were transported to Chalons-sur-Marne, one each from four cemeteries of great World War I battlegrounds. The service records stated “the four bodies selected represented the remains of soldiers of which there was absolutely no indication as to name, rank, organization or date of death.”

Then, on the morning of October 24, Sergeant Younger entered the city hall where the four caskets were displayed, each draped with the American flag. He carried a spray of white roses with which to select the chosen casket. Here is what he did next, in his own words: “I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know, it was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”

Known

Bearing the inscription “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War,” the chosen casket was brought to the United States, where the Unknown Soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The tomb sarcophagus we all recognize was placed above the grave of this Unknown Soldier from World War I. Its western panel is inscribed with these words:

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

Unknown Soldier Known But to God