To Our Harrison Family,
Memorial Day Weekend is upon us already, which marks the official transition to the Summer months, with the weather warming and the school year winding down. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming, and our town looks beautiful this time of year, doesn’t it?
The Memorial Day holiday also marks a moment for our nation to pause and recognize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedoms we enjoy every day in America. Perhaps now, more than ever, we understand how our way of life is unique and fleeting. May we never forget the men and women who enter our military, willing to lay down their life to maintain the liberties we often take for granted. On Memorial Day, we turn our attention to our lost heroes and express our gratitude.
The tradition actually began on the heels of the Civil War, though there is some debate on the exact location where it was born. We know that Waterloo, NY first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866. A hundred years later, the federal government declared it the birthplace of Memorial Day. The town would annually host community-wide events, close its businesses, and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. Using red flowers became the tradition, with poppies symbolizing remembrance and carnations representing admiration.
The recognition wasn’t called Memorial Day in those early years; in fact, it was known as Decoration Day and came to be celebrated on May 30th by many northern states. The first official celebration saw General James Garfield make a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, with 5,000 participants decorating 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
For decades, the day exclusively recognized those who fell in the Civil War. However, by the early part of the 20th century, after World War I, the holiday evolved into a day to honor those lost in all wars. For the next several decades, May 30th stood as the designated recognition date. Then, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971.
Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
We have our own tradition in Harrison Township that consists of decorating Main Street with American Flag banners and special recognition moments that include rifle volleys and the playing of taps at four specific locations in town on Memorial Day. They are:
- 9:00 AM – Mullica Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
- 9:15 AM – Old Town Hall
- 9:30 AM – William Wilt Park Memorial
- 10:00 AM – Richwood Methodist Church Cemetery
These are wonderful and humbling events to attend, especially the final stop at Richwood, where after the ceremony everyone is given a red flower to place on the grave of a local fallen soldier. We take pride in our traditions of recognition, which also includes our Veterans Memorial Walkway at William Wilt Park, known as Hero Lane. The entrance to the memorial is lined with engraved brick pavers honoring anyone who has served in the military. Learn how to order a special paver for someone in your life here.
Regardless of the place or manner of the tradition, Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the wonder that is America and all that it represents in world history. Join me, our Township Committee and Veterans Commission this coming Holiday Weekend in saying “thank you” to those individuals and their families who have given their life in defense of it.
On behalf of Deputy Mayor Julie DeLaurentis, Committeewoman Michelle Powell, Committeeman John Williams, Committeeman Adam Wingate and all of our Harrison Township Department Heads and staff, I wish you and your families a happy and safe Memorial Day.
Together for Harrison Township,