HistoryBuff.com May 2011 Newsletter
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Origins of Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Subscriber William Wiersema suggested that some Americans get the difference between Memorial Day and Veteranís Day mixed up. He also suggested an article to explain the difference.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in General Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. 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). Today, most states observe Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.

In 1915, as a result of the battle of Flanders Field, that was covered in poppies, Moina Michael 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 and when she returned to France, 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 help. 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 selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

Veterans Day

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, D.C., became the focal point of reverence for Americaís veterans.

Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nationís highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as Armistice Day.

Armistice Day officially received its name in America in 1926 through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday twelve years later by a similar Congressional action. If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was "the War to end all wars," November 11 might still be called Armistice Day. But only a few years after the holiday was proclaimed, war broke out in Europe. Sixteen and one-half million Americans took part. Four hundred seven thousand of them died in service, more than 292,000 in battle.

Armistice Day Changed To Honor All Veterans

The first celebration in America using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized National Veterans Day, which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans. The event was held on November 11, then designated Armistice Day. Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. Raymond Weeks received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan in November 1982. Weeks' local parade and ceremonies are now an annual event celebrated nationwide.

On Memorial Day 1958, two more unidentified American war dead were brought from overseas and interred in the plaza beside the unknown soldier of World War I. One was killed in World War II, the other in the Korean War. In 1984, an unknown serviceman from the Vietnam War was placed alongside the others. The remains from Vietnam were exhumed May 14, 1998, identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, and removed for burial. To honor these men, symbolic of all Americans who gave their lives in all wars, an Army honor guard, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), keeps day and night vigil.

A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.


Little-known Abraham Lincoln Legacies

In my forty-six years of researching the Lincoln assassination, I have managed to find literally dozens of Lincoln legacies. Here are a few of them:

  • Tad Lincoln was born with a cleft palate. This is a large opening in the roof of the mouth. It also affects the upper gums so teeth do not grow in properly. Today this birth defect can be corrected by a few surgeries, however, surgical intervention was not possible in Tadís lifetime. Also, in the 1850s and 1860s, of course, there were no blenders, etc. to grind food. Thus, Mary Todd had to take a bite of meat, for example, chew it, then take it out of her mouth and put it in Tadís mouth so he could just swallow it. With the exception of puddings or applesauce, Mary had to feed Tad this way for his entire life.

  • Tad Lincoln was eleven years old when his father was assassinated. While his father and mother went to Fordís Theatre the night of April 14, 1865 to watch the play Our American Cousin, Tad went to Groverís Theatre to watch Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. He was accompanied by a White House butler. Near the end of the play, someone ran inside Groverís Theatre, on to the stage, and yelled "President Lincoln has been killed at Fordís Theatre." Tad was instantly taken back to the White House where no one would tell Tad if his father was alive or dead. What a horrible way to learn of his fatherís death!

  • Abraham Lincoln died April 15, 1865. He is the only person is history to have twelve official funerals in seven states. His body was put upon a special train that traveled 1,700 miles and stopped in twelve cities for the funerals. His casket was removed from the train and taken to a special building such as a court house or capitol building for an open casket viewing. It is estimated that over 1.3 million people passed by his casket for the viewing. Since it was Spring, and flowers were in bloom, many viewers left a single flower or a bouquet on his casket. By the end of each viewing, his casket was literally covered in flowers.

  • Robert Todd-Lincoln, the only Lincoln child to live to adulthood, has a dubious distinction; He had a connection to the first three presidential assassinations. The first connection was his father's assassination, of course. In 1881, when James Garfield was assassinated, Robert Todd-Lincoln was Garfieldís Secretary of War and was present at the assassination. In 1901, when William McKinley was assassinated, Robert Todd-Lincoln was present at his shooting also. From this point forward, Lincoln left politics, moved to Vermont, bought a house and was hired as president of the Pullman Railroad Company. He died in 1926 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

  • Robert Todd-Lincoln and his wife, Maryís child, Jack, was born in 1873 died in 1890 at the age of sixteen. He was buried in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois until 1930 when his body was moved to his fatherís grave in Arlington Cemetery.

    If any subscribers have a direct connection to book publishers, let me know. Shown above are only five of the little-known facts about the Lincolns I have discovered. I have thirty-five more just as interesting. With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War now starting a five-year run, the topic would be of high interest. I also have photos/engravings to go along with each tidbit.


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    April Contest

    CONTEST ONE QUESTION: Only one President had two Vice-presidents die in office. Which one?

    ANSWER: James Madison.

    CONTEST TWO QUESTION: Four Presidents received the Nobel Peace Prize. Which ones?

    ANSWER: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, Jr. and Barack Obama. .

    Seventy-five people entered the contests. Most had the correct answers. Only six entries were disqualified due to an incorrect subject heading. Another twenty-nine people failed to select a prize if they won so were disqualified. All prizes were awarded.

    The April Contest Winners Were:
    • Lindsay Wood - California
    • Michael Wharton - Missouri
    • Zac Viscidi - Massachuetts
    • Mary McLain - South Carolina
    • Helen L Pirtle - Virginia
    • Frank G Chilinski - Connecticut

    This Issue's Questions:

    To enter Contest One, answer the question: Who was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at the time of the Cuban missile crisis?

    To enter Contest Two, answer the question: With FDR's New Deal, which program employed men and women to build hospitals, schools, parks and airports?

    Contest Rules

    • Contest entry deadline is Thursday, May 19, 2011. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 72 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

    • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

    • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest One question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

    • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest Two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

    • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

    • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

    • If answering the Contest One question, select your prize from the Contest One prize list.

    • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

    • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, SEVEN will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

    • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
    May Contest One Prize List
    (Select ONE of the two prizes below if enterering Contest One)

    The Great Indian Wars - 1540-1890
    A Series of five documentaries

    The Best of Howdy Doody
    20 original episodes from 1949-1952
    May Contest Two Prize List

    (Select ONE of the prizes below if enterering Contest Two)

    Dover Enquirer historic newspaper from 1832

    Mercantile Advertiser and New-York Advocate (New York City) historic newspaper from 1836

    The Commercial Bulletin (Boston) historic newspaper from 1867

    Original New York Tribune historic newspaper from 1880
    That's it for this issue.

    Rick Brown

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