Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Editorial: Memorial Day and Beyond

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Editorial: Memorial Day and Beyond

Article excerpt

On May 5, 1868, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan announced that May 30 would be a day to honor the soldiers who had lost their lives in the most destructive war in U.S. history. At least 620,000 Americans were killed in the Civil War, but this is almost certainly an underestimate -- many soldiers never received a proper burial, and some historians (such as J. David Hacker) say the number could be as high as 750,000. As Logan reminded his fellow Americans when he declared the observance of the first "Decoration Day," the bodies of Union and Confederate soldiers "now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land."

After the war, Logan became the first commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic -- an organization that advocated for veterans in Congress and across the country. In this capacity, Logan issued a general order that designated May 30, 1868, as a day to decorate "the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." This is the origin of what we now call Memorial Day.

Logan noted that our duties toward veterans extend beyond symbolic gestures, which is why his order also called upon his fellow Americans to "aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."

The GAR rightly regarded the treatment of veterans and their families as one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the U.S. government. For example, the GAR lobbied Congress to increase support for disabled veterans, allocate federal funds to veteran pensions and provide affordable housing for veterans' families. Members also established posts throughout the country to address veterans' issues at the local level. At its height in 1890, there were 490,000 members of the GAR -- 19,000 of whom worked at 478 posts in Kansas. …

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