Many memories of Memorial Day are now long forgotten

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Beacon

In a recent edition of our local paper I found ads for “Memorial Day Sales” for stoves, refrigerators, garden equipment, hardware and automobiles, just to mention a few.

What any of this has to do with the over one million three hundred thousand men and women who lost their lives in one of our countries many wars since its founding, is beyond me.

It seems that ever since 1968 when congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to specified Mondays to create three day weekends that the significance of the holidays was lost in vacation plans.

Much of what Memorial Day is all about seems to be gone, it’s just become another three day holiday.

Since 1998 Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a WWII veteran and holder of the medal of honor (now deceased), repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day, but each time it was voted down.

American men and women have fought in 12 wars on nearly every continent on earth.

Older residents may recall that Memorial Day in years gone by was often referred to as Decoration Day. It was a day in which the graves of veterans and family members who had passed on were decorated with flowers and flags.

Decoration Day was originally created to honor the Union dead of the Civil War. Records indicate that the first observance of Memorial Day took place in 1865, not in the north as you might suspect but on a race track in Charleston, South Carolina.

The reason this site was chosen was that it was a mass grave for soldiers that died while being held captive in a prisoner of war camp that had formerly occupied this location. It was in 1868 that the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s organization proclaimed that the holiday would be celebrated nationwide each year on May 30th.

They further proclaimed that the graves of fallen union soldiers would be decorated on this day. You’ll note that this proclamation specifically states “the graves of union soldiers” were to be decorated and made no mention of Confederate graves.

With the bitterness of the Civil War still fresh in their minds many southern states did not celebrate Memorial Day, which they considered a northern holiday, until after WWI.

In Sheboygan in past years it was always a tradition to have a Memorial Day parade and then some sort of religious services after the parade. A common practice, in years gone by, was for the parade to head down 8th street, then west to the middle of Wildwood Cemetery and then proceed to a speaker’s stand which had been set up near a tall flag pole near Sheboygan’s version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Very few people even realize that Sheboygan has a tomb for the Unknown Soldier. The monument was placed there in 1924 and was paid for by local organizations to honor the war dead of all branches of the military.

A flag is flown over the tomb daily to honor those who had their lives taken from them in one of our countries wars. Even fewer people are aware of a marker that stands on the north west corner of Calumet Drive and Geele Avenue that was placed there by an organization known as the Gold Star Mothers which was organized after WWI by mothers who had lost sons in that horrific conflict.

Even today young men and women in our military are stationed in faraway places and find themselves in great danger.

I have written columns before on Memorial Day and probably in the future will do so again. As you go thru the special three-day long weekend take just a few minutes to try and remember the hundreds of young Sheboygan area men and women who served their country and never came back home.

If you have any comments or suggestions for future columns, do not hesitate to contact me at 920-458-2974 or wangemann@yahoo.com


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