Note to readers – Sauk Valley Media reprints editorials from the past as a regular feature. The following editorials appeared in the Gazette on May 29, 1963.
Those from early middle age upward find the name “Memorial Day” still strange upon the tongue. To them, the holiday was long familiar as “Decoration Day.” It was just 95 years ago this May 30 that Decoration Day first was observed, by order of Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Three years, plus little more than a month, had passed since the end of hostilities of the War Between the States. A nation was still [nursing] the long-to-heal wounds of civil war.
Decoration Day was just that – a day to decorate the graves of loved ones lost in battle – and of others, friend and foe alike, who perhaps had no one to mourn them.
Today, 95 years later, Memorial Day marks the tribute the United States pays to the dead of all its wars – tribute by family, friends, military, patriotic and civil organizations.
But there is a very special tribute paid by every person – even those who give no heed to the significance of the day – a tribute that the men who are gone would surely appreciate.
It is the existence of a vital, growing, busy people, taking the first of their three great summer holidays. It is the picnicking, the working in the yard, the motoring, swimming, eating, laughing, loving, lazing, snoozing, long weekend of a people greeting a new summer with all the diverse energies and preferences that characterizes their approach to the hardworking days of the year.
It is for these things, this life, this very existence, that we are indebted to those who have gone.
Somewhere along the way of this holiday, find a quiet place – your church, a corner of a field where fence and woodland join, a place in your heart – and spend a moment in remembering.
They would be pleased.
There are towns which have been built in valleys with large hills towering over them. On warm, sunny days, such heights are made for contemplation.
As the solitary viewer traces the town and its geographic features, a feeling of great peace can descend.
From this distance, man’s habitations and his works seem well-ordered.
The rectangles of the blocks of houses are like pigeon holes ready for the storage of life’s meanings.
The rivers and the streets seem to fit the contours of the land, and if they do not, it would appear simple to make this slight rearrangement or that bit of altering to gain complete symmetry.
On these heights, it is hard to reconcile the existence of wars. It is only when you are back in the narrower confines of the city’s streets, marching with the masses of humanity, that wars become a reality again.
At times, history seems little but a recital of wars past. There are philosophers who argue, in fact, that war is as “normal” as peace.
Memorial Day, of course, is a day set aside in many of our states to bow a moment over the war dead of the past. It has grown to encompass all those who made the supreme sacrifice. Our national emblem flies over their graves, and they are decorated with blooms. A rifle volley rips out, and the lonely voice of a bugle sounds “Taps.”
They are remembered, we tell the war dead. And again we renew our promise that they will not have died in vain and that we are doing our puny best to prevent others from sharing their fate.
We look about us and know that much of the world is in turmoil. Though we did not request it, world leadership is in our hands, and what happens on Main Street can well affect the globe’s millions. Leadership has its price, and threatening events challenge us over each horizon.
In keeping our vow to those who made this country strong, we can find only one pivotal fact: We must endeavor to keep our nation’s strength without faltering.
On that hilltop, war seemed remote, if not impossible. Down here, we are engulfed with the knowledge that the only hope for peace is strength, eternal vigilance, and a nation with steely moral fiber.
In this day when wars are almost too horrible to imagine, this is the only gateway open on the path toward peace forever.