Memorial Day (MorristownGreen.com)

The official nation-wide holiday, the last Monday of May, wasn’t created until 1971.  However, General John A. Logan created Decoration Day in 1868, as a day to decorate Civil War veterans’ graves. The General thought the holiday should be on May 30th.  On that day, much like today, flags were placed on the graves of veterans killed in the Civil War. After World War One, Decoration Day became a day to honor deceased veterans of all wars the U.S. was involved in up to that point.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared that Waterloo, NY was the birthplace of Memorial Day as local citizens honored deceased veterans on May 5th, a hundred years prior.

Military Band rounding the Green in front of First Presbyterian Church, Memorial Day 1915.

Military Band rounding the Green in front of First Presbyterian Church, Memorial Day 1915. Photo from The North Jersey History and Genealogy Center’s Frederick Curtiss Collection.

In 1915, members of the A.T.A Torbert Post of the Grand Army of the Republic took part in a morning parade to honor their comrades who were killed or died from wounds suffered in the Civil War. The parade began at 10 a.m. opposite the post rooms at 5 Washington St. The Morristown band led the way followed by 30 members of A.T.A. Torbert Post, carriages carrying veterans unable to walk, A.T.A. Torbert Post 15, Sons of Veterans, a large number of Camp Fire girls, and about 200 Boy Scouts with “field music” or military music. Flower wagons brought up the rear. The parade went from Washington St. to Park Pl. to DeHart St., to Maple Ave., to James St., to South St., to Park Pl. then to the soldiers’ monument on the green where a soldiers’ service took place.  Then graves of veterans in the various cemeteries in town were decorated.  The Methodist Episcopal Church hosted a luncheon for the members of A.T.A. Torbert Post 24, G.A.R. and A.T.A. Torbert Post No. 15, Sons of Veterans, Morristown camp of the Spanish American War Veterans. That evening Memorial Services at the Methodist Church concluded the ceremonies. Anyone interested in more information on the Memorial Day services in Morristown in 1915 should come in to read an article in the June 4 issue of the Jerseyman.

Crowd gathered at the Civil War Monument on the Green, Memorial Day 1915.

Crowd gathered at the Civil War Monument on the Green, Memorial Day 1915.  Photo from the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center’s Frederick Curtiss Collection.

In 1971, Congress passed 36 U.S.C. 116 or U.S. Code Section 116: Designation. – The last Monday in May is Memorial Day. (b) Proclamation. The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation (1) calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace; (2) designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace; (3) calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and (4) calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.

There was some concern in town that the first national Memorial Day in Morristown could be contentious. Remember that the nation was still heavily involved, and still split over that involvement, in the Vietnam War.  The previous year several members of a group of anti-war protesters were arrested for obstructing traffic and interfering with police, according to a June 1, 1971, Daily Record article by Tom Berrigan.  But on May 31st, 1971, heavy rainfall and a change of heart by the town council led to peaceful ceremonies.  The council held a special Saturday morning hearing in which they overturned the previous Monday’s decision to not permit the Morris County Center for Peace and Human Rights to parade vote.  The town aldermen allowed the Morris County Center for Peace and Human Rights to parade a half hour after the traditional parade organized by the Morristown-Morris Township Memorial Day Association. Only 150 people lined the streets for the traditional parade and 100 for the second parade.  Various veterans’ groups, town and township officials, police and firemen in their dress uniforms, the Morristown High School Band, and baton twirlers marched from monument to monument in town, and ended with services on the Green.  The Morristown Post Master, J. Robert Tracey and Rev. Dr. John McLaughlin, a former army chaplain, spoke at those services.  The Center’s group, led by two men carrying a banner “Stop the War. End the War Dead,” some veterans’ in old uniforms, middle aged men and women, some political activists met at town hall and walked to the Green.

Forty-four years later, Morristown will look to remember the men and women who lost their lives in the service of their nation, on Monday, May 25th.

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