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Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Junior/Senior High School

No one has greater love than a person who lays down his life for his friends. ~ John 15:13, CJB

For those people who might not know, Memorial Day originally was known as Decoration Day. Three years after the Civil War ended, an organization that supported Union veterans established Decoration Day.

This fact is why, as I think about Memorial Day’s history, I find myself grinning about how, back in the day, the majority of African Americans who were from my hometown, my parents and siblings included, used to live on Lincoln Street, which was named after President Lincoln. I also find myself grinning, when I think about how, back in the day, the majority of my hometown’s African Americans, myself included, attended the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Junior Senior High School (GAR), which today still is located on South Grant Street (named after President/General Grant). By the way, my hometown is located in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, and this fact is why it is ironic to me that GAR’s school colors are blue and gray, and the school’s motto is “Sons of the Blue and Gray.”

Anyway, it is apparent that GAR, my old junior/senior high school, is named after the original Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). This 1866 Decatur, Illinois GAR was a fraternal organization founded on the principles of “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty.” GAR, the organization initially made up of Union veterans, was one of the most influential networking organizations of that day that helped Civil War veterans, who wanted to share their experiences, stay connected. More important, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, the man in charge of GAR, established May 30th as Decoration Day—a day when this nation could honor the war dead by decorating their graves with flowers. As a result, the first large observance of Decoration Day was held on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, a Union cemetery in which, at that time, just hundreds of confederates were buried.

The bottom line is that my old junior/senior high school’s namesake is the very organization that established Decoration Day, a day that by 1971 became the national holiday that is observed on the last Monday in the month of May. This holiday is better known as Memorial Day!

However, the actual name change from Declaration Day to Memorial Day happened sometime after World War I. The name change was so that this country could pay honor to the men and women who died in all American wars.

Now, even though many people have forgotten the history behind Memorial Day, and even though some individuals never knew its history, the fact remains that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This fact is why Memorial Day 2012 is a special day for me, not only because I served my country during the Vietnam Era, as a member of the US Air Force (1971-1977), but also because so many men and women serving in the various service branches lost their lives while they were stationed in Vietnam. For these reasons, Memorial Day weekend and Memorial Day mean much more to me than a three-day holiday. Indeed, Memorial Day weekend and Memorial Day, for me, always will be more about spending time remembering and honoring those who have died in service to this nation!