Eagle Feathers #79 – Decoration Day
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
It was a day born out of the Civil War to honor the soldiers who had died during that terrible conflict. The official tradition began on the 30th of May, 1868 at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Decoration Day, later changed to Memorial Day, was designated for the placing of flowers, flags, and personal items of respect on the graves of the fallen veterans of that war and to honor them for their supreme sacrifices. The graves of these veterans numbered over 600,000, and they are found in thousands of their hometowns throughout the country.
After World War I, the observance day was changed to honor not only Civil War dead, but also all American veterans who lost their lives in all her wars.
Through the years, dozens of towns professed to have been the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York, as its place of origin. Waterloo was chosen because one hundred years earlier on May 5, 1866, the village was adorned with flags at half-mast and soldiers’ graves were decorated. It was the first formal, village-wide annual observance of a day dedicated to honoring the Civil War dead.
There are two cemeteries in Somerville. The younger cemetery is located on Broadway near the Arlington line and is one of the only veterans “Killed In Action” cemeteries in the nation.
The older cemetery is located on Somerville Avenue opposite School Street. A fifteen-foot high, eagle-adorned monument stands prominently in its center and is dedicated to Somerville’s slain Civil War soldiers. It is inscribed with the names of the deceased Somerville heroes and the quote, “Their warfare is over, they sleep well.” This shaft is said to be the first stone erected and paid for by citizens as a public memorial to the memory of those who died in their country’s service during the Civil War. It was erected in the early summer of 1863, three years before the celebration at Waterloo’s memorial cemeteries.
Somerville has had a tragic list of her sons who gave the supreme sacrifice for our liberty. It reads:
Civil War – 98
WWI – 148
WWII – 415
Korean War – 30
Vietnam War – 33
Beirut, Lebanon – 1
So think of them the next time a veteran gives you his form of decoration…the poppy.