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Previous story Oregon Adjutant General remembers the sacrifices and legacy of Oregon Veterans Next story

Story by The Oregon Herald Staff
Published on Tuesday June 1, 2021 - 7:00 AM
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ALBANY, Oregon - Remembering the sacrifices made by Oregonians in their service to the United States, Maj. Gen. Michael E. Stencel, Adjutant General, Oregon, reflected on the significance of Memorial Day as the Keynote speaker at the Linn County Veterans Memorial, Albany, Oregon on May 31, 2021.

During his remarks, Stencel encouraged those attending "to honor our service men and women who have given their lives for our country."

"By passing on your appreciation and gratitude to their families for the freedom their sacrificed has brought; to honor them by living your dreams, by participating in our county's political process and exercising your own freedoms to the fullest," he said.

Following his remarks, organizations in the region participated in a Wreath Laying ceremony before a Soldier's Cross. A Rifle Salute by the American Legion Post 10 and Taps, along with fly over concluded the nearly one-hour ceremony.

Veterans, families and other local citizens were able to walk and pause at many of the markers and memorial tributes at the Timber Linn Memorial Park following the Memorial Day Ceremony with improved guidelines in recent weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties. The holiday is observed on the last Monday of May. The holiday was observed on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Many volunteers place an American flag on graves of military personnel in national cemeteries. Memorial Day is also considered the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, while Labor Day, the first Monday of September, marks the unofficial start of autumn and the end of the summer.

Many cities and individuals have claimed to have been the first to celebrate the event. In 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic called for a 'Decoration Da'y, which was widely celebrated. By 1890, every Northern state had adopted it as a holiday. The World Wars turned it into a generalized day of remembrance, instead of just for the Civil War. In 1971, Congress standardized the holiday as 'Memorial Da'y and changed its observance to the last Monday in May.

Two other days celebrate those who have served or are serving in the U.S. military: Armed Forces Day , an unofficial U.S. holiday for honoring those currently serving in the armed forces, and Veterans Day , which honors those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Early national history In April 1865, following Lincoln's assassination, commemorations were widespread. The more than 600,000 soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government also began creating the United States National Cemetery System for the Union war dead.

By the 1880s, ceremonies were becoming more consistent across geography as the GAR provided handbooks that presented specific procedures, poems, and Bible verses for local post commanders to utilize in planning the local event. Historian Stuart McConnell reports:

on the day itself, the post assembled and marched to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of the fallen, an enterprise meticulously organized months in advance to assure that none were missed. Finally came a simple and subdued graveyard service involving prayers, short patriotic speeches, and music … and at the end perhaps a rifle salute.

Relationship to Confederate Memorial Day Main article: Confederate Memorial Day

Confederate Memorial Monument in Montgomery, Alabama In 1868, some Southern public figures began adding the label 'Confederate' to their commemorations and claimed that Northerners had appropriated the holiday. The first official celebration of Confederate Memorial Day as a public holiday occurred in 1874, following a proclamation by the Georgia legislature. By 1916, ten states celebrated it, on June 3, the birthday of CSA President Jefferson Davis. Other states chose late April dates, or May 10, commemorating Davis' capture.

The Ladies' Memorial Association played a key role in using Memorial Day rituals to preserve Confederate culture. Various dates ranging from April 25 to mid-June were adopted in different Southern states. Across the South, associations were founded, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for the Confederate dead, organize commemorative ceremonies, and sponsor appropriate monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate dead. The most important of these was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from 17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by World War I. They were 'strikingly successful at raising money to build Confederate monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks.'

By 1890, there was a shift from the emphasis on honoring specific soldiers to a public commemoration of the Confederate South. Changes in the ceremony's hymns and speeches reflect an evolution of the ritual into a symbol of cultural renewal and conservatism in the South. By 1913, David Blight argues, the theme of American nationalism shared equal time with the Confederate.

Decoration Day to Memorial Day By the 20th century, various Union memorial traditions, celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the U.S. military service. Indiana from the 1860s to the 1920s saw numerous debates on how to expand the celebration. It was a favorite lobbying activity of the Grand Army of the Republic . An 1884 GAR handbook explained that Memorial Day was 'the day of all days in the G.A.R. Calendar' in terms of mobilizing public support for pensions. It advised family members to 'exercise great care' in keeping the veterans sober.

'On Decoration Da'y Political cartoon c. 1900 by John T. McCutcheon. Caption: 'You bet I'm goin' to be a soldier, too, like my Uncle David, when I grow up.' Memorial Day speeches became an occasion for veterans, politicians, and ministers to commemorate the Civil War and, at first, to rehash the 'atrocities' of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together and the point was often made that German and Irish soldiers – ethnic minorities which faced discrimination in the United States – had become true Americans in the 'baptism of blood' on the battlefield.

See also: Anti-Irish sentiment § 19th century, and Anti-German sentiment § United States In the national capital in 1913 the four-day 'Blue-Gray Reunion' featured parades, re-enactments, and speeches from a host of dignitaries, including President Woodrow Wilson, the first Southerner elected to the White House since the War. James Heflin of Alabama gave the main address. Heflin was a noted orator; his choice as Memorial Day speaker was criticized, as he was opposed for his support of segregation; however, his speech was moderate in tone and stressed national unity and goodwill, gaining him praise from newspapers.

The name 'Memorial Da'y, which was first attested in 1882, gradually became more common than 'Decoration Da'y after World War II but was not declared the official name by federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress's change of date within a few years.

By the early 20th century, the GAR complained more and more about the younger generation. In 1913, one Indiana veteran complained that younger people born since the war had a 'tendency ... to forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races, and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears'. Indeed, in 1911 the scheduling of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway car race was vehemently opposed by the increasingly elderly GAR. The state legislature in 1923 rejected holding the race on the holiday. But the new American Legion and local officials wanted the big race to continue, so Governor Warren McCray vetoed the bill and the race went on.

Civil religious holiday