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Memorial Day, a time to remember

Submitted by Albin Johnson - May 25, 2006

This Holiday sometimes referred to as "Decoration Day" was officially proclaimed by General John Logan of the "Grand Army of the Republic" and designated as May 30th 1868. More recently the official date was altered to take advantage of a three-day weekend. The date this year is Monday May 29th 2006.

General Logan requested that the day be celebrated with "strewing of flowers" and decorating the graves of comrades, both North and South, who died in the defense of "their" countries, and whose bodies now lie buried in almost every city, town and village church yard or cemetery. He gave instructions that the day not be one for division, but a day for reconciliation. It has been noted that President Lyndon Banes Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the official "birthplace" of the holiday. Conversely there are others who lay claim for establishing this observance. One legitimate story declares that Nella L. Sweet, a Southerner, published the Hymn, "Kneel where our Loves are sleeping" in 1867 as a tribute to the "Ladies of the South" who are decorating the graves of the Confederate dead. A sad note from the Civil War era is that the unidentified dead from both sides were often buried in mass graves. The mere word "WAR" has rarely been known for noble acts or deeds.

The Civil War was fought mostly in areas that were considered Confederate States, and many of the largest cemeteries are located there. My family and I have visited Shiloh, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, the very famous Arlington Cemetery, as well as California's Los Angeles's Westwood, San Diego's Point Loma, and Fullerton's Hillcrest Park.

"" recently printed pictures and names of those men who served during the First World War from Minonk. There are only a very few "Dough Boys" who are alive today. Those thousands of Gils who served during WW11 are "fading away" at a rapid rate. Korean Conflict Veterans are all in there 70's or more, while the Vietnam Conflict service personnel are reaching the age of retirement. Today, we have another "conflict" composed of Marines and National Guard personnel who are paying the ultimate price and adding more "Bronze Plaques" to our burial sites.

My memories of Memorial Days during the 1930s and 40s in Minonk were as a young Boy Scout. If memory serves me, there was a large parade of Scouts, School band members, American Legion members, current GIs, Fraternal Organizations, visitors and town's folk all wending their way to the City and Catholic Cemeteries
where a formal ceremony would be held. The memorial ended with the playing of "Taps". My sister Joan, my wife Marilyn, and my son Eric have all played Taps which included the haunting ‘ECHO" at these types of Memorial Services.

The Bugle was used during the Civil War to communicate with the masses of infantry soldiers. Starting the day out was REVEILLE which was played at 5AM in Summer and 6AM in Winter (any of you remember, "wakee, wakee, wakee, rise and …"? Next came ASSEMBLY, STABLE CALL, BREAKFAST CALL, SICK CALL, WATER CALL, FATIGUE CALL, GUARD MOUNT, DRILL CALL, DRESS PARADE and ROLL CALL. At 10PM, TAPS was played for "lights out". The battle calls included, FIX BAYONETS, QUICK STEP, RUN, COMMENCE FIRE, RETREAT, RISEUP, LIE DOWN, and CEASE FIRE. The Boy Scouts bugler also knew the call for SWIMMING and raising the flag or COLORS.

There are a couple of versions of who was responsible for the call TAPS. The most colorful one was that during the Civil War battle called the "Seven days war." The battle took place in the area between Norfolk and Richmond, VA. After a costly battle at Harrison's Landing, a Union General couldn't sleep because of some wounded Southern soldier's cry for water over and over. He carefully crawled through a "no mans land" and found the boy and pulled him back to safety. The Rebel soldier near death handed the officer a scrap of paper on which "TAPS" was written. The officer searched the then dead boy only to find it was his own son who fought for the South. Makes for a good tale, No? A more likely story was that the playing of TAPS and the rifle volleys fired over the dead soldier's grave brought enemy cannon fire zoned in on the music.

The popular words ascribed to the buglers call of TAPS are these 5 verses:
1. Day is done, gone the sun, from the hills, from the lake, from the skies, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
2. Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, may the Soldier or Sailor, God keep on the land or on the deep safe in sleep.
3. Love, good night, must thou go, when the day and the night, need thee so? All is well, speedeth all to their rest.
4. Fades the light and afar goeth day, and the stars shineth bright, fare thee well, day is gone, night is on.
5. Thanks and praise, for our days neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky, as we go, this we know, God is nigh

On this glorious May day, people in the USA as well as people all over the world will stop and remember those, both friend or foe, who are buried there; but not to honor WAR, but to remember all those brave fallen souls.