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.
Here are some local Memorial Day events:
Saturday, May 25
▪ Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham will have its annual “Memorial Day Remembrance: The American Soldier Through the Ages” this weekend. Military living historians will represent soldiers through different time periods on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $3 for adults, $2 for kids 5 to 16 and free for 5 and under. bennettplacehistoricsite.com/special-events/
▪ Project Uplift USA will create a field of flags living memorial starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday at American Legion Post 116, 6400 Johnson Pond Road, Fuquay-Varina. Volunteers will keep vigil throughout the weekend until a closing ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday. Then, the flags will be taken to area cemeteries to place on military gravesites. The public can purchase and place a flag at the memorial for a requested donation of $3. The Field of Flags typically has been held at the Freedom Balloon Fest, the hot air balloon festival, which will not be held this year. facebook.com/ProjectUpliftUSA/
▪ Members of JROTC, Boy Scout Troop 515 and American Legion Post 148 in Wendell will place flags at veterans’ graves in Greenmount Cemetery at 5 p.m. On Sunday, the American Legion Post will host a Memorial Day service, 5100 Wendell Blvd. in Wendell, at 5 p.m. Free hot dogs and refreshments to follow.
Sunday, May 26
▪ American Legion Post 1 will host a wreath-laying ceremony at Raleigh National Cemetery, 501 Rock Quarry Road, starting with music at 1:30 p.m. Randy Cash, Adjutant for the American Legion Department of North Carolina, will be the featured speaker.
Monday, May 27
▪ The Orange County Veterans Memorial will host a remembrance ceremony at 7:45 a.m. at the Southern Human Services campus, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill. It will be followed by an open house and concert at American Legion Post 6, 1714 Legion Road, at 10 a.m.
▪ Durham County Veteran Services will hold a ceremony at 9 a.m. on the front steps of the Durham County Administration Building/Old Durham County Courthouse at 200 E. Main St. The public is invited to help call the roll of the more than 350 active-duty service members from Durham County who died while at war.
▪ American Legion Post 7 in Durham will place flags on graves at Maplewood Cemetery on Saturday, then hold a Memorial Day service at the cemetery on Monday at 10 a.m.
▪A wreath-laying ceremony to honor all veterans will be at the N.C. Veterans Monument on the Edenton Street side of the State Capitol at 10:45 a.m., hosted by the Tar Heel Detachment 733 of the Marine Corps League. Music by the St. Francis Brass Quartet. Featured speaker will be retired Col. Andrew R. Finlayson, author of “Killer Kane: A Marine Long-Range Recon Leader in Vietnam, 1967-68,” and “Rice Paddy Recon: A Marine Officer’s Second Tour in Vietnam, 1968-70.”
▪ The Johnston County Council of Veterans Organizations is sponsoring a Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. inside the courthouse in Smithfield. Retired Command Sgt. Major Benny Dobbs Jr. will speak.
▪ The Garner Memorial Day observance, including a wreath-laying, will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Garner Veterans Memorial, in Lake Benson Park, 921 Buffaloe Road. Keynote speaker will be Erik Shepard, who did six tours in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marine Corps and now heads the Triangle chapter of the Thomas Manion Foundation, a veterans organization.
▪ Cary will hold its Memorial Day Remembrance at Veterans Freedom Park, 1513 N. Harrison Ave., a 2:30 p.m. Speakers include: Heather Rossi, a retired U.S. Air Force major who now works for USO of North Carolina; George McDowell, who spent eight years on active and reserve duty in the U. S. Army, including two tours with the 1st Infantry Division on the DMZ in the Republic of Korea and is now junior vice commander of the Cary Franklin-Sloan Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7383; and Bill Kretzschmar, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who served two tours in Vietnam and was named the USO of North Carolina volunteer of the year in 2018.