The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


May 27, 2009

Memorial Day revisited

We've just noted another Memorial Day, a time to thank and think about those who serve and have served in our country's military forces. There are so many different ways across the country that this day is celebrated. The recognition of this day has its roots in the Civil War.

Very shortly after the April 1865 end to the Civil War, Ellen Call Long organized a women's memorial society as a way to reconcile embittered enemies. Groups emerged in the North and the South that memorialized the dead—and cared for the war's disabled as well as the widows and orphans that resulted from the Civil War. On June 22, 1865 women adopted a document of resolutions that read in part:

"The object of this meeting is to initiate a Memorial Association ... that shall perpetuate in an honorable manner the memory of the gallant dead....

"We are ... willing to do all that women can do to stem the tide of bitterness ... and angry feelings .... We will practice and teach forbearance and patience, which must finally bring peace and justice...."

It is said that in 1866 Henry Welles , a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., suggested shops in that town close for one day to honor the soldiers killed in the Civil War who were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. Then in 1868 Maj. Gen. John A. Logan established Decoration Day on May 30 so the nation could decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. 

Like so many things, this day began thanks to the efforts of several women and men. And like many holidays and special occasions, this one sometimes gets lost in the rush to simply enjoy a day off work. No matter how we feel about war, we should take time to thank our men and women in the military for what they do. And we should honor the fallen and grieve for those families who so recently have lost loved ones in war.

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