A few days ago a select few U.S. congressman threatened to take
President Clinton to federal court to force him to comply with the 1973
War Powers Act. That law says, essentially, that no president can
employ U.S. forces in combat for a period lasting more than 60 days,
without congressional approval or, at most, a formal declaration of war.
Barring that, no president is supposed to unilaterally commit U.S.
troops to any war without an expressed declaration of war from
Oh, but that’s legal political stuff. Who in the world cares
about that? After all, it’s Memorial Day and we’ve got cookouts,
pool parties, beer bashes and televised sports to worry about.
Come on, Dougherty — lighten up. It’s a holiday. It’s a
time of rejoicing. It’s a time to celebrate … what? That’s right –
most of us don’t even know that Memorial Day is a day to remember our
war dead, the truly heroic men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice
for us so we could barbecue, watch ball games and get slovenly around a
pool all day.
I recently interviewed a woman on my radio show that is trying to
educate our youth to the history surrounding Memorial Day. She began
her efforts years ago when, while taking some kids to a local Memorial
Day opening of the community pool, she asked her small charges if they
knew what the holiday was really all about. They didn’t.
Considering all of the emphasis on store sales, three-day weekends
and trips to the ball park, why would our younger generations know
anything about Memorial Day?
Having said that, I decided to help her educate rather than spend my
column space ranting about our loser commander in chief who wouldn’t
even fight for this country (right or wrong) in the same way he is
asking our servicemen to do today. I just felt it would be more
productive, so here goes:
In 1865, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo,
N.Y., 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
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, the United States
Government recognized Waterloo as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day.” 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 on May 30. Since
then, the whole of the nation celebrates the occasion with speeches,
parades, observances and religious services.
By the way — besides the men and women who have sacrificed their
lives for this great country — if you’re looking for some real heroes
to show your kids and grandkids, there are several names mentioned in
the Memorial Day history above. Those people are good role models to
May God bless this republic and keep it safe, unified, and strong.