Memorial Day Wreath Ceremony, Town of Bath, West Virginia
Sunday, 28 May 2023 as read by Lawrence M. Landon, Col, USMC Ret.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
We are members of the Knights of Columbus Council 12191 from Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. Tomorrow, our nation will celebrate the federal holiday known as Memorial Day. Most see this as the beginning of summer. We attend barbecues, go to the park, and swim at the pool. Basically, [we] enjoy the liberties of a free and beautiful nation.
Others may visit the graves and monuments of our sons and daughters who died fighting for our nation's liberty. This is what was intended when the federal government enacted Memorial Day in 1971. But, the traditional ceremony that we will conduct today started over a century earlier.
The Civil War ended in 1865. Over 6,500 men died during the war and most families had a father or son, uncle or cousin, who had fallen. The following spring, Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line in various towns and cities began holding springtime tributes to these fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
Two years later, in 1865, a former Union officer - an Illinois politician - called for a nationwide remembrance. He proclaimed, "[t]hat the 30th of May in 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating, the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."
On that same day, US Representative from Ohio James A. Garfield, a former Union general and a future US president addressed a crowd of 5,000 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for the first official Decoration Day. He stated, "Hither, our children's children shall come to pay their tribute of grateful homage for this are we met today. By the happy suggestion of a great society, assemblies like this are gathering at this hour in every state of the Union. Thousands of former soldiers are today turning aside in the march of life to visit the silent encampments of dead comrades who once fought by their side. From many thousand homes whose light was put out when a soldier fell, there go forth today to join the solemn processions loving kindred and friends from whose heart the shadow of grief will never be lifted 'til the Light of the eternal world draws upon them."
The 30th of May would continue as Decoration Day across American towns until it was renamed Memorial Day in 1971 and moved to the last Monday in May. Today this simple and solemn ceremony is in keeping with our town's obligation as directed by President Garfield so long ago.
We will now pray and then decorate our town's military monuments.