Whatever your preference, let’s reflect for a moment on the true meaning and origin of why ‘Memorial Day’ was created:
On May 5, 1868, years after the Civil War ended, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), leader of Union veterans, established “Decoration Day” as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Major General John A. Logan declared observance on May 30; first large ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
After much debate over which ‘celebration’ location for Decoration Day was the first, for example, April 25, 1866 in Columbus, Mississippi where a group of women decorated grave sites of Confederate soldiers; Macon, GA; Columbus, GA; Richmond, VA; Boalsburg, PA or Carbondale, IL—approximately 25 places have been recognized relating to the original of Memorial Day. Keep in mind and try to recall from those days in history class, The North and South were on opposing sides during combat, so while the northern states were recognizing this day and placing flowers on graves, the South refused to acknowledge the day, choosing to honor their deceased military on separate days until after World War I. Finally, in 1966, then President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the official “birthplace” of Memorial Day. It was in Waterloo on May 5, 1866, where a ceremony honoring local veterans who fought in the Civil War was held. Regardless of the many disputed claims as to the official birthplace of Memorial Day, we can all agree that this decided that the last Monday in May would be the day to remember those service members who gave their lives in service to our country.
Our own City of Saratoga Springs held their Memorial Day celebration with its annual parade downtown from the City Center to Congress Park. After many hours, tireless efforts, and loyal dedication, the volunteers of local military organizations, Patriot Hills of New York—Jeannine, Paula, Darlene, and Wanda to name a few, as well as County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen and many others, and VFW Post 420 members, Gene and Jim, in Saratoga Springs, are to be commended for their hard work to ensure our veterans are remembered with honor.
Switching gears slightly, to also remember a military man, a World War II veteran, who served his country and fulfilled his childhood dreams of becoming a pilot. Although his story ends with many years of service in the Army Air Corps, coming home to lead a successful life as a business owner, a husband of 62 years, father to five children, and having his flight jacket and other military memorabilia on display at the NYS Military Museum on Lake Avenue in Saratoga Springs; not exactly the criteria described above for this Decoration Day celebration, still worth an honorable mention for such a fine example of a man who served. His name is Harold J. “Pop” Wiley and he began his Army Air Corps career as an aircraft mechanic repairing and maintaining B17 and b-18 airplanes. “Pop” became a member of a new unit at the time in 1941, called the 303rd Bombardment Group, was assigned as flight engineer, promoted to Sergeant and dreamed of becoming a pilot. His journey to fulfilling these dreams took him to California, New Mexico, Washington (state), England and Berlin, Germany, where his group bombed chemical plants, oil refineries, and shipyards, flying and completing the mission in German and Europe. “Pop” travel back to the states by route of North American, Brazil, Trinidad and arrived in Oklahoma City in June, 1944.
“My dad was a wonderful man. A good, honest man who worked hard. He raised all of us with his tough, yet gentle demeanor, but was firm when necessary. His flight jacket and stories are displayed in the military museum in the city. A good father, a good man,” explains one of his daughters with a smile on her face and pride in her voice. Harold J. “Pop” Wiley went on his last mission on August 24, 2010. He was 91.
As the Memorial Day weekend passes, let’s all take a moment to honor and remember those service members who sacrificed and served protecting our freedom. We are grateful for their service and remember them with honor. And, as always, we thank all of our veterans for all that they do.
See you next month at A Voice for Veterans here at Saratoga TODAY.