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

On this day in 1783, “A Great Jubilee Day” was held on the last Monday in May at North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut to celebrate the end of fighting in the American Revolution.

The celebration included feasting, prayer, speeches, toasts, militia maneuvers with cannon discharges, and is one of the earliest documented celebrations of its kind.

Read the following excerpt from Reverend Samuel Orcutt’s A History of the Old Town of Stratford and the City Bridgeport, Connecticut (1886) for guidance on how to properly celebrate ‘the last Monday in May’:

“The inhabitants of North Stratford set apart as a day of public rejoicing for the late publication of peace. At one o’clock p.m., the people being convened at the meeting house, public worship was opened by singing. The Reverend Beebe said a prayer well adapted and suitable for the occasion. They all sang a Psalm. Mr. Lewis Beebe, a student at Yale College, made an oration with great propriety. The congregation then sung an anthem. The Reverend Beebe, then requested the Ladies to take their seats prepared on an eminence for their reception when they walked in procession, and upwards of 300 being seated the committee who were appointed to wait on them supplied their table with necessaries for refreshments.

In the meantime, the two companies of militia being drawn up performed many maneuvers, and firing by platoons, general volleys and street firing, and the artillery discharging their cannon between each volley with much regularity and accuracy. After which a stage was prepared in the center and the following toasts were given:

1. The United States in Congress Assembled.
2. General Washington and the brave Officers and soldiers of his command.
3. Our Faithful and Illustrious Allies.
4. The Friendly Powers of Europe.
5. The Governor and Company of the State of Connecticut.
6. May the present peace prove a glorious one and last forever.
7. May tyranny and despotism sink, and rise no more.
8. May the late war prove an admonition to Great Britain, and the present peace teach its inhabitants their true interests.
9. The Navy of the United States of America.
10. May the Union of these States be perpetual and uninterrupted.
11. May our Trade and Navigation Extend to both Indies and the Balance be found in our favour.
12. May the American Flag always be a scourge to tyrants.
13. May the Virtuous Daughters of America bestow their favors only on those who have Courage to defend them.
14. May Vermont be received into the Federal Union and the Green Mountain Boys flourish.

At the end of each toast, a cannon was discharged. The whole was conducted with the greatest decency and every mind seemed to show satisfaction.”

George Washington Invisible Hand reveal