Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, recognizing the family tradition of placing flowers on graves to honor the soldiers, sailors and Marines of the Civil War. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union soldiers, made these celebrations official in 1868, establishing May 30 as the day for veterans to honor their dead comrades.
Many in the South regarded the holiday as a Northern commemoration and chose dates other than May 30 to remember their Civil War dead. After World War I, there was further debate over whether the country should honor its war dead with a single holiday or whether World War I dead would have their own holiday on Armistice Day in November.
The debate continued until after World War II, when the current purpose of the holidays became established: Memorial Day for honoring the dead, and Armistice Day, renamed Veterans Day, for honoring and thanking the living.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
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Here are some local Memorial Day events. All events are Monday, unless otherwise noted.
▪ The Tar Heel Detachment 733 of the Marine Corps League Department of North Carolina will host a wreath-laying ceremony to honor all veterans at the N.C. Veteran’s Monument on the Edenton Street side of the State Capitol at 11 a.m.
▪ Historic Oakwood Cemetery will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at 4 p.m. in the cemetery’s Veterans’ Field of Honor. Barry Porter, executive director of the Eastern North Carolina Region of the American Red Cross, will speak. Music by flutist Mary Norris and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and presentation of the colors by the Capital City Young Marines.
▪ American Legion Post 7 in Durham will install 600 flags on graves at Maplewood Cemetery at 11 a.m. Sunday and will present the colors and hold a Memorial Day service at the cemetery at 10 a.m. Monday. Rain site is Post 7, 406 E. Trinity Ave.
▪ The groundbreaking ceremony for the Orange County Veterans Memorial will be held at the Southern Human Services campus, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, at 3 p.m. The privately funded memorial will pay tribute to the thousands of men and women from Orange County who served or are serving in the U.S. armed forces. Visit www.orangecountyveteransmemorial.com for more information.
▪ The Orange County Peace Coalition will sponsor a Memorial Day commemoration at the Chapel Hill Public Library at 2 p.m. Lori Khamala, director of the North Carolina immigrant rights program for the American Friends Service Committee, will be the keynote speaker. There will be music, including the playing of taps, and a tribute to the late peace activist John Heuer led by Doug Ryder of the Triangle Chapter 157 Veterans for Peace.
▪ Cary will hold its Memorial Day Remembrance at Veterans Freedom Park, 1513 N. Harrison Ave., from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Cary Town Band will open with patriotic songs, followed by a moment of remembrance led by Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha. Chris Froeschner and David Cole, both U.S. Air Force retired, will speak.
▪ The Garner Memorial Day observance will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Garner Veterans Memorial, at Lake Benson Park, 921 Buffaloe Road. Sponsored by the town, the Garner Veterans Advisory Committee, American Legion Post 232 and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 10225. Keynote speaker will be U.S. Navy Reserve Ret. Commander Van Carpenter, founder and chief creative officer of the Why Not Creative Group.
▪ The Johnston County Council of Veterans Organizations is sponsoring a Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday inside the courthouse in Smithfield. Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Hargis and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 990 President Ron Whittington will speak.
▪ A Memorial Day service will begin at 11 a.m. in the mausoleum at Raleigh Memorial Park cemetery, sponsored by Heartland Hospice and led by members of the U.S. Navy from Raleigh’s Operational Support Center. Navy Chaplain Tom Riley will speak, and there will be a flag ceremony, the playing of taps and a balloon release.
▪ On Sunday, American Legion Post 148, 5100 Wendell Blvd. in Wendell, will hold a memorial service at 5 p.m. Free hot dogs and refreshments to follow.
▪ American Legion Post 549 in Graham will hold a Memorial Day service at 9 a.m. at The Graham Civic Center, 503 McGhee St. A light lunch will follow the ceremony.