Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Memorial Day Is About Reconciliation

Memorial Day is not about division; it is about reconciliation

I probably do not need to remind you that today is Memorial Day. In 1971 the federal government declared it a national holiday and placed it on the last Monday in May to allow workers a three-day weekend. Many people see this day as the unofficial start of summer.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, had its beginning as a day of remembrance for those who died while serving our country. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.


Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. and he village of Boalsburg, Pa. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery states that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.


In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y. the "birthplace" of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866 honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff.


The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).


One source says, "It is difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen. Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868."


"It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all."


To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed by Congress in 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps'."

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die."


This day is not set aside to glorify war but to recognize the high cost of war and remember the price that some have paid. It is a time to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving this country. It is also a time to be reminded of the value that we place on our freedom and the responsibility that belongs to all of us to do everything necessary to preserve it.


Robert J. McCracken reminds us that "We on this continent should never forget that (people) first crossed the Atlantic not to find soil for their ploughs but to secure liberty for their souls."


Jesus taught, "The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them" (John 15:13, CEV).


Honoring those who gave their lives in service to this country does not exalt them over persons from other countries who have given their lives for their homeland. Rather it is an acknowledgement that the freedom we enjoy, and for which we are so deeply grateful, is a costly and precious gift. 

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 30, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]