Memorial day was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. It was observed by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers during the first national celebration. At Arlington National Cemetery, around 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Today, all military casualties are memorialized. Here is the original declaration:
HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
i. The 30th day of May, 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 church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
ii. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
iii. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
JOHN A. LOGAN,
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.
As you enjoy the day away from work, the cookout, the swim or the afternoon nap, take some time out to remember those that made this day possible by giving their lives so Americans can enjoy freedom. It is likely that one or more members of your family tree, friends, co-workers or neighbors are among the scores of lives sacrificed below:
Revolutionary War (1775-83) -- 4,435 total casualties;
War of 1812 (1812-15) -- 2,260 total casualties;
Mexican War (1846-48) -- 13,283 total casualties;
Civil War (1861-65) -- 364,511 Union casualties; 133,821 Confederate casualties (estimated), plus another 26,000-31,000 in Union prisons);
Spanish-American War (1898-1901) -- 2,446 total casualties;
World War I (1917-18) -- 116,516 total casualties;
World War II (1941-46) -- 405,399 total casualties;
Korean War (1950-53) -- 36,574 total casualties;
Vietnam War (1964-73) -- 58,220 total casualties;
Persian Gulf War (1990-91) -- 383 total total casualties;
War on Terrorism (2001-present) -- 4,485 (Iraq) and 1,852 (Afghanistan).
All thumbs go up to the military personnel of this country, past and present, and to their loved ones on this Memorial Day!
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board