‘Decoration Day’ was the root of Memorial Day

Walt Mares Photo/Gila Herald: White crosses at Clifton’s Veterans Park stand in preparation for the Monday, May 25, Memorial Day remembrance ceremony. The event, set for 10 a.m., will include the Clifton-Morenci Post 28 American Legion Color Guard and guest speakers. It will include solemn acts and words of gratitude for those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have now gone to the great beyond. The public is encouraged to attend and pay tribute to those who made the greatest of sacrifices while serving their country.

A thank you is deserved by vets, civilians

Column By Walt Mares

To some people it is just another day off to enjoy a three-day weekend. It is a time to haul the family up to the high country and its cool temperatures. For many, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of hot weather here in the high desert of Greenlee County. 

For yet others it is a day to visit the graves of family members or friends and remember them. Perhaps they decorate graves with real or plastic flowers or other objects,

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The battlefield cross with a bayonet in the ground symbolizing the soldier went down fighting was placed at Sgt. Walter Bruce Foote’s graveside as part of an annual memorial service for him. Sgt. Foote was killed in action on March 6, 1970, while serving in the Mekong Delta near Moc Hoa with the A-Team Detachment 413 of the 5th Special Forces Group. 

The actual designation of Memorial Day is to honor those who died serving their country in the military. The day has a most interesting history, It was originally referred to as “Decoration Day,” and eventually became known officially as Memorial Day.

The day has its roots in the War Between the States of the 1860s. There are at least a dozen towns in the eastern and southern United States that lay claim to being the birthplace of what eventually became known as Memorial Day. Snopes, a web site known for its thorough research and credibility, cites an incident that occurred in 1865 around Charleston, South Carolina. A Confederate-run prisoner of war was located there.

There were 257 Union troops who met their deaths there while imprisoned at the POW camp. The Yanks were buried in haphazard, common unmarked graves. At the war’s end in 1865, a group of slaves disinterred the bodies and buried in what was to them honorable and decent graves. The slaves then decorated the graves with flowers and other objects. Their efforts were wrought of gratitude to the Union soldiers and their efforts to free slaves.

Years after the renaming of Decoration Day, the federal government designated the last day in May as Memorial Day. That day and tradition held for may years. However, in the late 1960s the U.S. Congress designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The purpose was to create a three-day holiday.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The battlefield cross is placed at Sgt. Foote’s graveside for the memorial.

There were those who disagreed with the change of the day and resented a change in a time-honored tradition. Their complaints were dismissed, especially when Americans could stretch out the holiday to three days. 

This weekend, American Legions Posts throughout the U.S. will be placing flags on the graves of veterans who can still be identified. They will do so at cemeteries in Duncan, Clifton, Morenci, and Sheldon. It may be worth a person’s time to realize just how many from Greenlee have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

We are delighted knowing there will be people visiting and possibly decorating the graves of family members who may not have been in the military, but who in their own way contributed and made a personal sacrifice to make possible the freedoms and blessings we enjoy in this, the great United States of America.

Some of us will be remembering the humble beginnings of “Decoration Day” and say a deep prayer of gratitude.

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