'Renew our pledges to aid and assist'

May, 30, 2011
5/30/11
11:00
AM ET
Please accept my invitation to spend Monday thinking about something other than the NFC North (blog). Today is Memorial Day, and history buffs will find it especially neat that it fell this year on May 30. The first-ever Memorial Day in the United States was on May 30, 1868.

[+] EnlargeUnion Army Major Gen. John A. Logan,
AP Photo/FileUnion Army Major Gen. John A. Logan is known as the "Father of Memorial Day."
Memorial Day means many different things to many people, but I can't think of a better way to honor its true intent than to read the original proclamation from Gen. John A. Logan. (Want an NFC North connection? Logan was an Illinois native, a member of the First Illinois Infantry during the Mexican-American War and later served Illinois in Congress.)

Here is how Logan originally conceived Memorial Day:
The 30th day 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 now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard 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.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

I'm not sure about you, but I found those sentiments incredibly evocative. On Memorial Day, we remember not only fallen soldiers but also their widows and orphans.

If you would like to "gather around their sacred remains," the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers this military gravesite locator.

Back with you Tuesday.

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