Memorial Day from 1866 to present (2010)

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

For some folks Memorial Day has become a three-day weekend devoted to fun, but for many, especially those who attend the services conducted by Tustin American Legion Post 227, Santa Ana Cemetery or Fairhaven Memorial Park, it is a time to honor those who died fighting for their country.

Originally called Decoration Day, the observance originated in the South in 1866 when a group of women formed to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers who died fighting in the Civil War. In the North, the first memorial service for the Civil War dead was held the same year on May 5 when Henry C. Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, N.Y., came up with a plan to honor Civil War veterans with both a parade and the decorating of graves.

The celebration went nationwide in 1868 when Gen. John A. Logan organized Union veterans into the Grand Army of the Republic and designated May 30 as a special time to honor those who had died fighting in the Civil War. After being observed for a number of years, the ceremony became known as Memorial Day in 1882.

President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Now the Memorial Day holiday is a three-day weekend in most states with the observation switched from May 30 to the last Monday of May.

The observation of Memorial Day was brought to Tustin by the early settlers, who included both Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War. When Santa Ana Cemetery was established on Santa Clara Avenue in 1870, monuments to both the Grand Army of the Republic and Confederate States of America were built at its entrance. Special services honoring Civil War veterans have been held at the site each Memorial Day since then. Special recognition for the veterans of later wars has been added to these rites.

Various service groups continue to place a small American flag on each veteranís grave at both Santa Ana and Fairhaven cemeteries. Fairhaven Memorial Park, which was opened by Oliver Halsell and a group of businessmen in 1911 adjacent to Santa Ana Cemetery, also holds special ceremonies to honor veterans.

Crowds once lined the streets for the patriotic parades that were held in Santa Ana and other communities. The Memorial Day observance became a time for families to gather as well as a day for honoring all dead, not just war veterans, and decorating their graves with colorful bouquets.

Tustinís annual observation is arranged by the Tustin American Legion Post 227. which conducts a special ceremony each year to honor the veterans of all wars.

This year they are holding a Memorial Day luncheon in conjunction with the Tustin Area Senior Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Senior Center. The Legion Post 227 Color Guard will preside and a video of the Vietnam War will be shown.
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