It came out of the war that tore America apart.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “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. Source: History.com
May 30 was chosen by Logan because it was not the anniversary of any battle; it could be used to celebrate the peace, and those who died. And from Decoration Day came what we know as Memorial Day.
On the 150th anniversary of the founding of the college that would become the State University, and the 48th anniversary of the first Decoration Day, the Rutgers Class of 1880 erected a tablet honoring those Rutgers alums who died fighting the Civil War, alumni from the Class of 1828 through the Class of 1869.
It was a similar story following The War to End All Wars. A plaque honoring Rutgers men who fought and died to save democracy...including eight who never made it to graduation.
There were many classes that didn’t need to erect those plaques. There were times of peace, even if there was strife and turmoil in the world.
I grew up in a time of relative peace (if you ignore Korea *), marching in Memorial Day parades in Hackensack, first as a scout and then as a member of the high school band. And it was always a pretty big parade and a pretty big deal, ending on The Green opposite the Bergen County Court House. Speeches by dignitaries, presentations of wreaths by various groups, the playing of taps. I was a part of this solemn commemoration. The feelings changed, though, after college. And it was “the wall” that ultimately did it.
Every time I go to Washington, DC and see the Vietnam Memorial, I think, "There but for the grace of God..." That was my era, my war. It is my wall of 58,000 names of lost peers. I can recall vividly my freshman year. It was the year of the United States incursion into Cambodia and the resulting student protests across the country. It was Kent State, and the killing of four students on that campus. It was a very divided country and a very divided campus in New Brunswick; the University ultimately went on “strike”. Service men and women, especially soldiers, were berated, ridiculed, and taunted across the country. They were looked upon as evil, and the wounds were deep.
But more than a generation later, many of the wounds have healed, and there is, at least, a recognition that the soldiers, sailors, air men and women, and marines are doing a job. The job of protecting us, our way of life, our freedom. They are the ones who protect our rights and give us the opportunity to have those protests. They are the heroes.
And those 16 Rutgers’ students who died in or are MIA from that war are honored on campus, too. As are the almost 250 who served and died in World War II. The memorials only went up fairly recently, but it is a recognition that Rutgers alumni have been serving and protecting this nation, as well as dying for it, since it was created in 1776.
So, as you celebrate this Memorial Day 2017, enjoy the barbecues, raise a few, and have fun. But take a minute...just 60 seconds...to think about why you're celebrating. And who made it possible.
From all of us at On the Banks, have a great holiday. God bless America!
Note: Rutgers did not forget Korea. On the Old Queens lawn there is a marker with a plaque honoring the single Rutgers alum who died in that conflict.