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Memorial Day
  Last updated July 2006.

Taps  -  Decorating; flowers, flags  -  Celebrations; ceremonies, parades  -  The Poppy
Decoration Day   -   Memorial Day
Arlington National Cemetery
"Taps" plays just once.
Memorial Day

Last Monday
in May.
Memorial Day is to honor Americans who have passed on in the service of their country or have survived and now are gone.  From the fist American Veterans, the founding fathers, to those of this day, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom, it is our duty to honor. To maintain liberty, peace and tranquility at home, the enemy must be fought. It is those we honor on Memorial Day.
Ancient Honors The honoring of war dead began in ancient times. The Greek honored their war heroes by chaplets of Laurel and flowers. Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen of the Peloponnesian War, 2400 years ago.  Pericles' tribute could aptly be stated today in tribute to our heroes, "Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men."
Origins Unknown Originally, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day in remembrance of those fallen in the service of our nation during the Civil War.  More than a couple dozen cities lay claim to the origin of Memorial Day with just as many stories telling how it began. There is evidence that Women's Groups began decorating the graves of the fallen prior to the end of the Civil War. The Official Birth Place was declared, by President Lyndon B. Johnson in May of 1966, to be Waterloo New York. However, the origins of the day has not been conclusively proven. Most likely there were, in actuality, several beginnings as individual communities during the 1860's organized events out of the general need to celebrate the lives of each honored dead. What ever the origin, Memorial Day was established not to divide but to reconcile, gathering to honor those who sacrificed their all.
                            - The events leading to the Official declaration begin in 1865.
1862 Taps In July 1862 After the Seven Days battles at Harrison's Landing (near Richmond, Virginia) General Daniel Butterfield (the Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Army of the Potomac) was wounded. Thinking the regular call (Signal for Extinguish Lights) for Lights Out was too formal, with his bugler, Oliver Willcox North, they worked out "Scott Tattoo" to create a new bugle call, "Taps." "Lights Out" had originated with the French. The call of "Taps" first sounded on an evening in July, 1862. "Taps" was adopted throughout the Army of the Potomac, eventually being confirmed by official orders. Other Union units began using the new call with even a few Confederate units picking up on it.  Taps was written without words, however the most popular words of "Taps" are linked below.
1862 Taps The first use of Taps in a military funeral was during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862 when a soldier of Tidball's Battery A of the 2nd Artillery was buried. Concealed by the woods while occupying an advanced position in close proximity of the enemy, it was unsafe to fire the customary three volleys over the grave. Captain Tidball thought the sounding of "Taps" would be a fitting tribute and the most appropriate substitute. After the Civil War Taps became an official bugle call. 
1863 Lincoln
On November 19, 1863 with the fear that he would be the last president, President Abraham Lincoln gives the short but powerful Gettysburg Address, "a great civil war..testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." The Gettysburg Address has been called the first observance of Memorial Day. Lincoln's intent was to dedicate a portion of the battlefield as a cemetery for the thousands of men, living and dead who consecrated the soil with their blood in the battle. Within the speech he says, "That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause which they gave the last full measure of devotion...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..."
1864 War ends The official end of the Civil War.
1864 Common

Boalsburg, Pennsylvania claims Memorial Day began in its village in 1864. In October Emma Hunter, a young teen-age girl, accompanied by a friend gathered flowers to place on her father's grave. He was a Union Army Soldier who had died shortly before. The same day Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer laid out flowers over the grave of her son, Amos who was a private who had fallen the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Each placed flowers on the grave of the other's loved one. They knelt together in a common bond of grief in a little burial ground eternally guarded by Mount Nittany in Central Pennsylvania.

The full Story  - Next Boalsburg entry

1865 Decorate
Henry C. Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, New York at a social gathering in 1865, presents the idea of paying honor to the Civil War dead, by decorating each grave. The Idea takes form the next year.
1865 Decorate Women's Auxiliaries of the North and South had been providing relief efforts to families and soldiers on their respective sides.  In the spring of 1865 with the Civil War coming to a close, the focus of these women's groups began joining efforts to preserve and decorate the graves of the fallen from both sides of the conflict.
1865 May 30
Leader of the Virginia women's movement, Cassandra Oliver Moncure, of French descent, coordinated activities of several groups into a combined ceremony on May 30. It has been said that she chose May 30 because it is the day France celebrates the Day of Ashes; a solemn occasion celebrating the return of the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte from St. Helena to France.
1865 First Parade
The race track in Charleston became the site of an early Decoration Day observance in 1865, when thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers gathered to parade followed by a picnic and patriotic songs. The site had been a Confederate prison camp and mass grave of Union soldiers who had dies as captives.
1865 July
In Boalsburg, Pennsylvania what was to be an informal event of two women honoring fallen veterans became an impromptu observance as friends, family and acquaintances converged on July 4, 1865 at the little burial ground of Boalsburg. Dr. George Hall preached a sermon as every grave in the cemetery was decorated with flags and flowers.  

The full Story  - Prior Boalsburg entry

1866 Spring
With the idea of decorating the graves of the Civil War dead, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, New York gains the support of Seneca County Clerk, General John B. Murray, in the spring of 1866. A committee was formed to promote the idea to the community.  Wholly  supported by the townspeople, wreaths, crosses and bouquets were constructed for placement on each veteran's grave. The date of the event was set for May 5, 1866.
1866 April
On April 25, 1866 a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi, visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen at Shiloh. Disturbed by the neglected graves of Union soldiers (the enemy) they placed some of their flowers, decorating those also. This act inspired the poem "The Blue and the Grey" by Francis Miles Finch and published in the Atlantic Monthly. The generosity and reconciliation prompted an editorial printed by Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. The practice of laying flowers at soldiers graves quickly became an American tradition.
1866 May
On May 5 1866, the village of Waterloo, New York was decorated with flags at half-staff, evergreen boughs and mourning black streamers. Businesses closed with residents also flying flags at half-staff. War veterans led, joined by other civic societies, a march, to martial music in processions to each of three cemeteries. The graves of veterans were decorated and speeches were made by General John B. Murray and local clergymen.   Waterloo, New York was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966 by President Johnson.  Waterloo lays claim to the first observance saying that earlier observances were informal, one-time events, or not community wide. The ceremony is again held the next year.
1866 May
Major General John A. Logan helped to organize the first organized veterans memorial services Illinois, at Woodlawn Cemetery in Carbondale in 1866. Logan was the first to officially recognize Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1868.
1867 May
Waterloo, New York again honors the fallen of the Civil War on May 5th, 1967, by repeating the celebrations and ceremonies that were held the year before. Waterloo lays claim to the first community wide and yearly observance of Decoration Day, (Memorial Day) and will join with other communities the next year to hold the ceremonies on May 30th.
1867 Song "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet (published in 1867) carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" ( Song Information )
1868 May
Waterloo, New York held its third annual Decoration (Memorial) Day Celebrations, joining with other communities around the nation in holding them on May 30th.

Origin of Waterloo's ceremony.

1868 May

The Civil War had been over for three years when on May 5th, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union Veteran organization, establishes Decoration Day. Major General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, in General Order No. 11, on May 5, 1868, makes the first known/recorded official proclamation to honor those fallen in the Civil War.

"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."

- Major General John A. Logan; excerpted from General Order No. 11

1868 May
The first observance at Arlington National Cemetery is conducted in May of 1868. General James Garfield gives a speech just prior to 5000 volunteers decorating with flowers, over 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
1868 Ceremony The first Memorial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was inspired by the varied memorial observances across America that had taken place since the Civil War. Several Northern and Southern cities lay claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. Among those are Waterloo, New York; Columbus, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; and Carbondale, Illinois.
1873 States In 1873, New York is the first state to officially recognize the holiday, Decoration Day.  All of the northern states recognized the holiday by 1890.
1885 Taps Taps is unique to the United States Military.  The British Army has a Call used for the same purpose known as "Last Post" that has sounded over soldier's graves since 1885. "Taps" was still officially called Extinguish Lights (Lights Out), although most soldiers called it by "Taps," eventually the name of the call was changed to "Taps." 
1890 States All of the Northern states have officially recognized Decoration Day by 1890.  The Southern States refused to honor the day, to honor the Confederate dead on different days.
1899 Observance By the end of the 1800's ceremonies in observance of Decoration Day were being held throughout the country on May 30th.  State legislatures passed proclamations to designate the day.  The Army and Navy established regulations for proper observances at their facilities.
The Poppy Many American dead were buried in cemeteries all over Europe. The sites were usually fields where red poppies grew wild. Some have taken the red poppy to symbolize the blood that was spilt by the fallen.
John McCrae's in his poem "In Flander's Fields," he immortalizes the fallen in the image of the poppy.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row."

In Flander's Fields

1911 Taps An Officer's Manual by Col. James A. Moss is published in 1911. In the manual it give as account of the first use of "Taps" in a military funeral.       - The Account
1915 Poppy Moina Michael replies to the poem "In Flanders Fields," in 1915 with:

We cherish too, the Poppy red,
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies"
That blood of heroes never dies.

It was after writing the above words that Moina Michael thought of the idea to wear red poppies, to honor those who died in the service of their country, on Memorial Day. Moina Michael was the first to wear a poppy selling others to friends and co-workers then passing the money along to help servicemen in need of help.

Poppy Madam Guerin, visiting America from France, learned of the new custom that began with Moina Michael. Making and then selling artificial red poppies she raised money for war orphaned and widowed women. The tradition spread to other countries.
1920s States After World War I (The Great War) the meaning of the Decoration Day changed from honoring Civil War dead to honoring all Americans in any war. The holiday name also became "Memorial Day." The Southern States begin to recognized the day.  Many southern states maintain a separate day (Confederate Memorial Day), to honor the Confederate war dead. Alabama, forth Monday in April; Florida and Georgia in April 26; Mississippi, last Monday in April; North Carolina and South Carolina, May 10; Louisiana and Tennessee on June 3rd, Jefferson Davis' birthday; Texas (Confederate Heroes Day), January 19; and Virginia, last Monday in May.
1921 Poppy In America, in 1921, Poppies were sold nationally by the Franco-American Children's League to raise money for the war orphans of France and Belgium.
1922 Poppy The Franco-American Children's League disbanded in 1922 and Madam Guerin solicited help from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The VFW became the first Veterans Organization to sell poppies nationally.
1923 Poppy   The designation of "Buddy Poppy" and the plan, "Buddy Poppy Program," to manufacture and hire disabled veterans to help them financially, was adopted at the VFW's 1923 encampment.
1924 Feb.
VFW applies for the registration of the name "Buddy Poppy," with the U.S. Patent Office.
1924 May
 All trademark rights are issued to the VFW on May 20, 1924 for the name of "Buddy"; classification: artificial flowers. The VFW has since made the trademark a guarantee that all poppies with the the name "Buddy" and the VFW label are genuinely assembled by disabled veterans in need. Disabled Veterans assemble artificial poppies at The Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh and are paid as a means of financial assistance.
1951 Flags In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags at 150,000 grave markers in 1951, at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a practice that continues to this day.
Flags Beginning in the late 50's on the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, 1,200 soldiers of the 3s U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 160,000 grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery.  This is a tradition that has spread among military and veteran groups across America.
1958 Taps A Stained Glass Window, commemorating the first sounding of Taps at a military funeral, was installed and dedicated in 1958 at the Chapel of the Centurion (Old Post Chapel) at Fort Monroe, Virginia.  The Stained Glass Window depicts a bugler and a flag at half staff. A drummer boy stands besides the bugler.
1965 Centennial
Plans for the Centennial Celebration of Memorial Day is began by community leaders of Waterloo, New York in 1965. Goals were to seek national recognition of Waterloo being the birthplace of Memorial Day through congressional action and to organize a proper celebration of a centennial observance.
1966 May
The Official Birthplace was declared, by President Lyndon B. Johnson in May of 1966, to be Waterloo, New York just in time for Waterloo's Centennial Celebration. Memorial Day was first observed in Waterloo, New York, on May 5, 1866.  However, the exact origin of Memorial day has not been conclusively proven.
1966 May
With the long awaited Government recognition of the official birthplace, Waterloo, New York hold its Centennial Observance of Memorial Day on May 30th. The 1966 Centennial Celebration was attended by dignitaries from government, military, Veteran's organizations and descendants of the original founders of Decoration Day in Waterloo, New York. Other cities may claim earlier observances but no other celebration compares with the well planned events and continuity of observance that Waterloo lays claim.
Waterloo Museum Once a luxurious home, on Main Street in Waterloo, New York, a house was purchased from the county and restored to house the Memorial Day Museum to house artifacts of early Decoration Day and of the Civil War.
1968 June
The Uniform Holidays Bill passed the United States Congress on June 28, 1968. The bill moved four holidays from the traditional date to a specified Monday. Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May. The effective date was designated to be 1971.
1969 July
The Virginia American Legion dedicated a monument to Taps, July 4, 1969, on Berkeley Plantation where Harrisons Landing is located (The site where Taps was born.) The grandson of the drummer boy had purchased the Berkeley Plantation. Rich in History, the Harrisons of Berkeley Plantation includes Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence; and father and grandfather of two presidents; President Benjamin Harrison; and President William Henry Harrison.
1971 Holiday By congressional act Memorial Day was declared a National Holiday in 1971. It was also designated to be observed on the last Monday in May, as other holidays also were similarly moved to a Monday.  Memorial Day was also expanded to honor all who have died in American wars. A few States continued to observe Memorial Day on May 30th.
1998 May
The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts began in 1998 to place a candle, the Saturday before Memorial Day, at each of over 15,000 memorial markers of soldiers interred at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park at Marye's Heights in Virginia.
                see the Luminaria Program
2000 Dec.
The “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579 was passed in Congress on December of 2000. the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance was created with the charter to "encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.” The charter also encourages coordination of commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance. It is asked that at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day all Americans, "... voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps."  Carmella LaSpada, Moment of Remembrance founder says, “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
2004 Memorial On Saturday, May 29th, 2004 the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., honoring the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces and the 400,000 soldiers who died in the war. 200,000 people attended the dedication; half of the were veterans. The National World War II Memorial sits between the Washington and Lincoln memorials in the National Mall. The size of a football field, the monument contains arches, pillars, wall of stars, fountains, a pool and many inscriptions; among them:

"Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the Eighteenth-Century father and the other the Nineteenth-Century preserver of our nation, we honor those Twentieth-Century Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice."

2004 May
In 2004, Washington D.C. held the first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
2004 May
The students of Tahoma High School in Kent, Washington placed flags at each marker at the Tahoma National Cemetery in 2004.  Ceremonies are held at most National Cemeteries on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Poppy Poppies are still assembled, in the Buddy Poppy program, by veterans in VA hospitals across the nation. The VFW Buddy Poppy program, today provides financial assistance in maintaining veterans' rehabilitation and service programs and aids in the support of the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation's veterans.
In Flander's Field
by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago, we lived,
Felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.
Words to Taps
Words to Taps
(Note: there are no
"official" words to Taps
These are the most popular.)

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, must thou go,
When the day and the night,
Need thee so?
All is well, speedeth all
to their rest.

Fades the light; and afar
Goeth day, and the stars
Shineth bright,
fare thee well;
Day has gone, night is on.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
'Neath the sun, neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, this we know,
God is nigh.


Another version is simply,

Go to sleep, go to sleep,
Go to sleep, go to sleep.
Go to sleep.
Go to sleep, go to sleep,
Go to sleep.

Words to Taps,

by the

Nation's Son
  by Roger W Hancock

Young the son, oh so young,
From mother, from father,
Now away.
Becomes man; honored one;
Nation's son.
Boy to man, oh so brave,
learn to march, learn to fight,
soldier boy.
Day is done, honored one;
Nation's son.

© July 15, 2006, Roger W Hancock,

    Above and below can be sung to the tune of the bugle call, Taps.

Nation's Girl
   by Roger W Hancock

Young daughter, oh so young,
From mother, from father,
Now away.
Now woman; honored one;
Nation's girl.
Girl, woman, oh so brave,
learn to march, learn to fight,
soldier girl.
Day is done; honored one;
Nation's girl.

© July 15, 2006, Roger W Hancock,

Memorial Day

Last Monday
in May.
The survivors, who know only too well the horrors of war, that have since passed on, we pay tribute. The Blood of Brave men spilt to liberate the oppressed ensuring freedom for the American citizen and future generations, we honor. Blood spilt on American soil and foreign lands were the sacrifices made by the fallen American war veteran. To these we pay tribute and honor on Memorial Day.
© Copyright 2006 Roger W Hancock
Memorial Day Links

Flag Etiquette - PoetPatriot
Military Links
- PoetPatriot
Patriotic Poetry -
Rhymes of Liberty
- PoetPatriot
Veteran Poetry
- PoetPatriot
Veterans Day TimeLine - PoetPatriot
Arlington National Cemetery
Flying the American Flag at Half Staff
Gun Salutes
Memorial Day Resource Guide
Museums & Memorials
National Cemetery System
The Origins of Memorial Day
The Story of Taps
Taps Bugler

   -    Military Poetry

Sources: - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

© Copyright 2006 Roger W Hancock 


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