Remembering the meaning of Memorial Day


As a former commander of the Dignam-Whitmore Post 526, The American Legion here in our own hometown, I would like to offer the following reflections on the upcoming Memorial Day holiday:

I have had the privilege of participating in Memorial Day services for over 62 years now, ever since I was a boy scout in Smithtown, N.Y. I marched in our town’s parade, and just as the kids do today, clamored for spent shell casings, as our veterans groups fired their rifles in a salute to the fallen. This was about 10 years after World War II, and only a couple years after Korea, so the memories and patriotism were still pretty evident.

The Grand Army of the Republic General Orders #1, dated the 30th of May 1868 commanded the following:

“The 30th 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 lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard 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”.

This communication issued after the Civil War, is one of the origins of our official “Memorial Day”, or as our grandparents knew it “Decoration Day”. This day of remembrance has since been altered by politicians for the purpose of convenience, to where now only every several years does it fall on May 30th.

It is important to note, despite the issuance of general orders or acts of congress, this patriotic day of observance really has its beginnings in the simple, decent gesture of a group or groups of ordinary citizens who felt the need to decorate, with flowers, the final resting place of those who gave their lives in our Nation’s conflicts. As President Lincoln said “….it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this”.

Evolving in late spring, when flowers are in abundance, this may have first taken place in the South, during and after the Civil War, where, as the story goes, the southern ladies placed flowers on the graves of their soldiers, and, noticing that there were no flowers on the Union Soldier’s graves, decided to decorate those as well. Again, a simple, decent gesture that became a national custom.

By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives and loved ones, whether they had served in the military or not.

The Dignam-Whitmore Post 526 will again participate in Memorial Day Services, just as we have done since 1922. On Monday, May 28h, we will first be at Byron Cemetery at 9 a.m., for services there, conducted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6861. Guest speaker is State Representative Rick Perales, Then at 11 a.m., we will conduct services at

Fairfield Cemetery. Guest speaker at Fairfield cemetery will be Colonel Lori Winn, commander, 88th Communications Group at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

I know that to many, Memorial Day weekend offers the first taste of summer, and the opportunity for a long weekend with family and friends. I get that. But I encourage all members of our community to take time out and attend ceremonies and reflect on the importance of the day.

Honor the memory of our countrymen who gave their lives in service to our country, especially Fairborn’s own Jesse Snow, who gave his life in The War on Terror. Also, take time to reflect on and remember with reverence those friends and family that you love and that are no longer with you. Then enjoy the fruits of their labor, the freedom we now enjoy thanks to their sacrifice.

By Chuck Knaub

Chuck Knaub is the former commander of the American Legion Dignam-Whitmore Post 526 and guest columnist for the Fairborn Daily Herald.

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