NOTE: This is the first in a regular series of columns that will appear in PrescotteNews on the histories, stories and issues of concern to the veteran’s community.
Local citizens and dignitaries are gathering today in Prescott, Arizona, as they are in thousands of communities across the United States, to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our country’s armed conflicts. Formal ceremonies will be held at Prescott’s historic Citizens’s Cemetery, 815 Sheldon Street, at 9am. Congressman Paul Gosar, along with former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and other local dignitaries will be in attendance.
Ceremonies will also be held at 11AM at Prescott’s National Cemetery located across from the Veteran’s Hospital at 500 AZ-89 in Prescott.
(Editor’s Note: Although the ceremonies are open to the public, there will be NO PARKING at the cemetery. Parking and shuttle services will be available from 9 AM-10:45 AM from the VA Hospital.)
Grave site ceremonies honoring the valor and sacrifice of soldiers who died in armed conflict are deep in human history. Today’s Memorial Day traces its roots to the Civil War period when women of the South began wreath laying ceremonies on the graves of Confederate dead.
Following an upsurge in patriotism and nationalist sentiments, at least in the North, associated with the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, ceremonies commemorating the war dead spread throughout the country.
In the decade following the Civil War, national cemeteries were founded by the federal government. Veterans groups began promoting a day of remembrance. Once known as Decoration Day, the North’s day of remembrance dates from a proclamation by General John A. Logan, Commander of the a veteran’s organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, which designated May 30, 1868, as a solemn day of mourning to honor our nation’s fallen soldiers. The custom quickly spread throughout the country. Ceremonies soon became standardized with prayers, hymns, political speeches and military music. By 1913, both Union and Confederate Veterans were holding joint ceremonies at Gettysburg National Cemetery.
The Memorial Day we celebrate today was officially designated by the federal government in 1967. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, moved the date from May 30th, to the last Monday of May. For many, Memorial Day has become just another three day weekend marking the unofficial beginning of summer. The original purpose and solemnity of a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s wars has given way to recreation and holiday sales. There are also those who mistake it for Veteran’s Day which honors the living as opposed to those who perished in combat.
A visit to one of our country’s national cemeteries will quickly dispel any idea that Memorial Day is just another antiquated custom for veterans and aging patriots. The fresh graves from our country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are reminders that American soldiers are still being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Just last year Arlington National Cemetery opened an additional 27 acres for burial sites. Those graves are the proof, if any proof were needed, that freedom is not free. Our constitutional republic and democratic way of life are still being bought with the blood of our countrymen. Memorial Day is the day we have set apart to remember, to honor, and to mourn those who have given their lives in battle so that our country can live in freedom.
Requiescant in pace. (May they rest in peace).