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On Memorial Day, the cemeteries that dot the landscape of Owen County were filled with people carefully placing flower arrangements and flags on the graves of family or friends who served our nation in time of war. Yet, traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Across the country, graves of fallen service men and women are increasingly ignored or neglected; many people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day; and though some towns and cities still hold Memorial Day parades, most have discontinued the practice.
Stories abound as to when Memorial Day was first celebrated. There is evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. But it is likely that Memorial Day had several separate beginnings. In the 1860s, many towns gathered to pay homage to soldiers killed in war, and each contributed to a growing movement that culminated in “General Order 11” issued by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
On May 30, 1868, the first official Memorial Day was observed when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. However, until after WWI, only the states in the north observed the holiday, for southern states honored their dead on separate days. After this war, all states began to celebrate Memorial Day on the same day, and its observance changed from honoring just those who had fought in the Civil War to those who had died fighting in any war.
There are a few notable examples across the country that serve to inspire the re-establishment of the original intent of Memorial Day. Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones of Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. Beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observance of Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of the approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. And in 2004, Washington, D.C., held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
As Owen countians commemorated this special day by remembering the sacrifices of their loved ones, it is hoped that perhaps they also reflected upon family memories and traditions, which are vital in creating our history.
The Owen County Historical Society looks forward to sharing the history of not only Owen County Veterans but also of county artifacts on the Owen County History Appreciation Day, June 25. The event will be held at the museum and everyone is invited to a tour, a delicious lunch provided by our members, and special entertainment and games offered throughout the day.
We want to sincerely thank Joyce Hill Hardin and those who donated to the historical society in memory of her husband, Scott; the Owen County Clothing Center; and Colonel Perry M. Lusby, who designated funds for specific projects at the museum. These include a picnic pavilion in the back yard, pouring a new concrete driveway, and erecting a small porch and steps at the back door to replace the steep, narrow concrete steps currently in place.
Please join us June 9 at the I.O.O.F. hall for our monthly historical society meeting. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 7 p.m. My husband, Tom Strassell, and I will present “History of the Kentucky River: Memories, Myths, and Magic.”