The history of Memorial Day dates back to the American Civil War and was instituted to honor soldiers who had died during the Civil War. It has been said to be inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored the dead. Previously known as Decoration Day, the first national observance took place on May 30, 1868. In the late 19th century, the holiday became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces.
Memorial Day is a time for honor and remembrance. Many people visit cemeteries, particularly military ones, decorate graves with flowers, flags and wreaths to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many people in our area visit the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly Township. The 544-acre property where the cemetery is located borders Fagan Lake and was referred to as “the Old Horton Farm.”
The veterans cemetery is a place that is near and dear to my heart. I was a reporter for a local newspaper when it was being constructed, and I covered the groundbreaking ceremony on October 14, 2004. The sun broke through the wispy, gray clouds just in time to warm the hundreds of people who gathered to honor the new, final resting place for those who have served our country. Veterans, dignitaries, elected officials and the public came to share this solemn event.
Many of the veterans in attendance had tears in their eyes. One told me he had already chosen his final resting spot for eternity. “It will be by the lake,” he said, “and I will go fishing every night. My friend, Stanley, will bring the bait.” Stanley told me, “there will be tears here today.” I’ll always remember the pride I saw in the faces of those veterans. I have a soft spot in my heart for veterans anyway, as my father served in World War II and my brother is a Vietnam Veteran.
As a news reporter, I also covered the first Memorial Day Ceremony held at the Great Lakes National Cemetery and the first Veteran’s Day Ceremony. Thousands of people from all over came to see the new cemetery and pay their respects. The first burial took place in October 2005.
Driving through the cemetery brings tears to my eyes, seeing row after row of white marble headstones. There are benches placed near the lake where you can sit in silence and take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the place. The Memorial Day Ceremony at Great Lakes National Cemetery always takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day weekend.
Many communities in Genesee County have parades on Memorial Day. There will be 21-gun salutes, airplane fly-overs and trumpets playing “Taps” to honor the fallen. While Memorial Day weekend is often viewed as the kick-off to summer fun, let’s all take a moment to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe.