Since 1890 California Masonic Lodge #183 has held Memorial Day observances and since 1947
has teamed with VFW Post #4345. This year’s Memorial Day observance will he held at the
grave site of Dick Spieler in the Evangelical Cemetery on Monday 31 May at 10:00 a.m. under
the direction of VFW Post #4345.
One of the first Memorial Days, or what was then called Decoration Day, occurred in Columbus,
Miss. on April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of
Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union
soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the
women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon
Johnson in May 1966. Although originally in memory of those who died in battle, today
Memorial Day honors all of those who have served our nation and passed on whether through
sickness, injury, or age. It is still far more than merely the "unofficial start of summer.”
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was
borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May
1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his
General Order No. 11. "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with
flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country
during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet
churchyard in the land.” He proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen
because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National
Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate
soldiers buried there.
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).
It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage
of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This helped ensure a three day weekend for
Federal workers, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the
Confederate war dead: January 19th in Texas; April 26th in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and
Mississippi; May 10th in South Carolina; and June 3rd (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana
This year, members of VFW Post #4345 will distribute Red Poppies on Saturday 29 May at
various locations in and around California and Tipton. The poppies are made by disabled
veterans and the proceeds go to assist various Veteran Programs throughout Missouri.
In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died
serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and
co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from
France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael.
When she returned to France she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned
children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the
Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France
and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for
Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to
nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy” Poppy program was distributing artificial
poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role
in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her
likeness on it.