600 BC The Greek Spartans were a society of warriors. All the men of that society were veterans since all served. Much like in modern times the Spartans revered their fallen warriors and honored them with commemorance. The Spartans of 600 BCE were unique in that when they buried their dead, they did not have a problem with burying them near the living. The Romans for example would bury their dead outside the city, so as not to pollute the living. In ancient Sparta however bodies have been excavated next to homes. Most Spartans were wrapped in a crimson cloak buried in unmarked graves sans headstones.
The exception to this were the dead, who had fallen in battle. For these Spartans were not only honored with a “Good Death”, but often times on the very same field of battle from which they had fallen. This was mostly because of difficulties in transporting the bodies back to Sparta. These exceptional brave warriors were also honored with headstones that read “In War” at the bottom. In certain cases fallen warriors were even commemorated with memorials. This was indeed the case with the great King Leonidas and his regiment of fallen warriors around 480 BCE. A memorial was erected at the site of battle that depicted Leonidas and his band of doomed warriors against the Persians.
9 BCE. Roman Warriors under Augustus had formed groups or “clubs”, where legionnaires would set aside portions of their pay for burial rights upon death. In many cases memorials were erected to honor the fallen soldiers and headstones would depict the fallen in their regalia. Cavalrymen for instance were often depicted riding their steed over the down trodden body of the enemy to symbolize the soul’s victory over death.
After the United States Civil War, it has been said that the women of Savannah would honor the fallen Confederate soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers. According to legend, in the summer of 1865 a local druggist Henry Welles, while talking to friends, suggested that it might be good to remember those soldiers who did not make it home from the Civil War. Not much came of it until he mentioned it to General John B. Murray, a Civil War hero from Waterloo, who gathered support from other surviving veterans. On May 5, 1866, they marched to the three local cemeteries and decorated the graves of fallen soldiers. It is believed that Murray, who knew General John A. Logan, told Logan about the observance and that led to Logan issuing Logan's Order in 1868 calling for a national observance. May 26th, 1966 President Johnson signed a presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Earlier, the 89th Congress adopted House Concurrent Resolution 587, which officially recognized that the patriotic tradition of observing Memorial Day began one hundred years prior in Waterloo, New York.
In closing, upon this day of honor, respect and celebration, please remember that the purpose of this day is to honor the fallen brave who have passed on to the fields of Elysium. This is not a day to honor all veterans, or current active duty Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen. This is a somber day where we may morn, celebrate and commemorate our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, grand parents and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice. While celebration is for that of the honor and life lived, commemorance is for the sacrifice and the loss. To all who read these words this writer wishes the very best for this momentous occasion. To all those who have moved on and died the “Good Death” This writer salutes you.