In 1865, Henry
C. Welles, a druggist in the
village of Waterloo, NY, mentioned at a social gathering that
honor should be shown to the patriotic dead of the Civil War by
decorating their graves.
In the Spring of 1866, he again mentioned this subject to General
John B. Murray, Seneca County
Clerk. General Murray embraced the idea and a committee was
formulated to plan a day devoted to honoring the dead.
Townspeople adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Wreaths, crosses
and bouquets were made for each veteran's grave. The village was
decorated with flags at half mast and draped with evergreen
boughs and mourning black streamers.
On May 5, 1866, civic societies joined the procession to the
three existing cemeteries and were led by veterans marching to
martial music. At each cemetery there were impressive and
lengthy services including speeches by General Murray and a
local clergyman. The ceremonies were repeated on May 5, 1867.
The first official recognition of Memorial Day as such was
issued by General
John A. Logan, first commander
of the Grand Army of the Republic. This was General
Order No. 11
establishing "Decoration Day" as it was then known.
The date of the order was May 5, 1868, exactly two years after
Waterloo's first observance. That year Waterloo joined other
communities in the nation by having their ceremony on May 30.
In 1965, a committee of community
leaders started plans for the Centennial Celebration of Memorial
Day. The committee consisted of VFW Commander James McCann,
chairman, American Legion Commander Oliver J. McFall and Mayor
Marion DeCicca, co-chairman, along with Village Trustees, M.
Lewis Somerville, Roscoe Bartran, Richard Schreck, Tony DiPronio,
and VFW Vice-Commander, Kenneth Matoon. Their goals were:
"to obtain national recognition of the fact that Waterloo
is the birthplace of Memorial Day through Congressional
action" and "to plan and execute a proper celebration
for such centennial observance."
In May of 1966, just in time for the Centennial, Waterloo was
recognized as the "Birthplace of Memorial Day" by the
United States Government. This recognition was long in coming
and involved hours of painstaking research to prove the claim.
While other communities may claim earlier observances of
honoring the Civil War dead, none can claim to have been so well
planned and complete, nor can they claim the continuity of
observances that Waterloo can.
The Centennial Celebration that year brought dignitaries from
government, military, veteran's organizations and descendants of
the original founders of Memorial Day. A once luxurious home on
Waterloo's Main Street, built in 1850, was purchased from the
county and restored. Now the Memorial Day Museum, it houses
artifacts of the first Memorial Day and the Civil War era.
Memorial Day is commemorated each year
in Waterloo. The parade, speeches, and solemn observances keep
the meaning of Memorial Day as it was originally intended to be.
WILL WE REMEMBER?
Who will we remember,
On Memorial Day, this year?
The list grows longer every day
With names of loved ones lost, no longer here.
Will we remember one of the daring Doughboys,
Who perished in a muddy, gas-filled trench?
One of a hundred thousand who did not return,
We sent him “Over There”, to help the French.
Will we recall our heroes of World War II?
They fought in many lands, in the air, at sea.
Nearly half a million gave up their lives,
To keep us safe and free from tyranny.
Will we remember
, “The Forgotten War”,
And the Soldier who died taking Pork Chop Hill?
One of tens of thousands who paid the price;
And one of the many who are missing still.
Will we remember just one special name,
One of those engraved on that cold black wall?
One of over fifty thousand gallant souls,
did bravely fight... and fall.
Will we recall that dreadful, grim September day,
The day the Towers fell and thousands died?
The day that terrorism showed its ugly face,
The day that Lady Liberty bowed her head... and cried.
Will we remember those lost most recently,
In the Afghan hills, on Middle Eastern sands?
Our troops protect our freedom and our way of life,
As they fight and die in foreign lands.
Will we remember them?
We will remember them, each and every one,
And we salute them all with heartfelt praise.
We will honor their courage, their pain and sacrifice.
Not just for today, but for all our days.
Frank J. Montoya
The above poem was is used with permission of the author