The Washington Times - May 25, 2009, 12:01PM

Whether you are old enough (and sentimental enough) to call it Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, and whether it is celebrated on May 30 as in years past, or this year on May 26 in an effort to allow working people to  have a long weekend, this is a special time for all of us as Americans.

The origins are many and varied.  In the South, it is most often celebrated on April 26, that being the date in 1865 that a lady named Sue Landon Vaughn and her friends made the apparent first organized pilgrimage to a cemetery to dedicate soldiers’ graves with flowers.  The “lady with the roses” as she was called, decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers.  In many Southern states it remains an April 26 observance;  some have fallen line with a more national approach.


In terms of “first”  the honor must go to Boalsburg  in Centre County, PA for in October of 1864 (before the war’s end) three girls: Emma Hunter, Elizabeth Meyer and Sophie Keller, went to the local cemetery and placed flowers and wreaths on the graves of loved ones who had died in the civil war.

It was on May 5, 1868 that the first ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was held, with about 5,000 in attendance.  Today the President of the United States sends a memorial wreath to be laid there, as well as one to the Confederate Memorial in Jackson Circle, a tradition that began with President Woodrow Wilson and continues through 2009, despite sporadic attempts to stop it by detractors of anything relating to Southern history and heritage. They, too, were American soldiers.

In May of 1865 in Waterloo, NY, soldiers who had died in the war were similarly honored with flowers placed on their graves, the stores closed , etc.  In 1996 the U.S. Congress proclaimed this to be the birthplacae of Memorial Day, obviously giving no credence to the earlier origin, and the first formal observance was on May 5, 1866.

At the same time in Columbus Mississippi and Jackson Mississippi, groups of ladies were similarly placing floral tributes in the cemeteries to honor the dead.  At least three different women are given nods as having been the originators in both areas.

A  year later, on April 29, 1866 in Carbondale, Ill. apparently a ceremony was held, and a marker there indicates that it was the site of the first observance.

It was not  until May of 1868 that the date was officially recognized in the North, many  years after the Southern ladies had been assuring their continuance of the tradition among the Southern states.   In 1868 Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic  (GAR) learned of the ladies of Petersburg, VA decorating [CSA] graves with flowers and small flags.  That day was made official by an Act of Congress in 1898.

And the search goes son.

History may have been made on one day or another, but the tradition continues to this very day.  Bands play, soldiers and others march, speeches are made, flowers are brought, wreaths are placed, all in  honor of the men and women who have selflessly served the United States in time of war.

A later addition has been the presence of “Rolling Thunder”, a patriotic group of motorcycle riders from all over the country, many of them proud combat veterans, who annually come to ride to the Capitol, the Vietnam Wall, and other significant sites, to honor the service of  all service personnel, and in an ongoing effort to bring home the missing.

The sound of some 600,000 motorcycles has made its way this year again, the roar of Harleys and Indians melding with the shouts from bystanders eager to welcome the riders and share in their  honor of those who have served.

Whether  you play ball, or have a picnic, come to the Mall or watch on television, stop for a moment and remember those who have served, and those who gave their lives that we might live free.

God bless them all, and God bless the United States of America.  The civil war made us one.