Devils Lake community to hold two events on Memorial Day

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Journal File Photo
The VFW Auxiliary takes center stage in the ceremony to mark Gold Star families and to honor the dead from each war through history.

The Devils Lake and surrounding Lake Region community goes all out for Memorial Day with two very special, solemn ceremonies.

The first begins at 9:45 a.m. in the Memorial Building in Devils Lake. You will be greeted at the door by members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps who will welcome participants and hand out programs for the day’s event.

Wesley Widmer, sergeant First Class (retired), JROTC Instructor and VFW Commander will act as the Master of Ceremonies.

The colors will be presented by the VFW Color Guard led by Commander Jack Nash and the  incomparable Devils Lake Elks Community Band under Glenn Rygg’s direction will open with the National Anthem and provide the music for the entire ceremony. Their “Armed Forces Salute” never fails to move the crowd as the official songs for each branch of the service are performed.

Those in the crowd who served in that branch stand as their anthem is heard in the medley as members of the VFW Auxiliary bring forth the flags from each branch.

The guest speaker for the morning is Very Reverend Chad F. Wilhelm, the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Following the ceremony in the Memorial Building, weather permitting, a second ceremony will take place in the Devils Lake Cemetery starting at 11 a.m.

There will be a presentation of the colors and reading of the names of our recently departed comrades by Widmer. Following the Lord’s Prayer led by Andrew Sogge and Lisa Grafsgaard, president of the VFW Post 756 Auxiliary will welcome everyone. There will be special recognition of Gold Star families, special messages and tributes to those who served.

Wreaths will be laid at the stones marking each of the wars through history where Americans have fought and died.

The dramatic 21-gun salute is followed by the playing of Taps by Freddie Wilson before the retiring of the colors and the ceremony’s conclusion.

The History of Memorial Day

Originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags, Memorial Day is a day for remembrance of those who have died in service to our country. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers.

During that first national celebration, former Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

    - James A. Garfield

May 30, 1868 Arlington National Cemetery

This event was inspired by local observances of the day that had taken place in several towns throughout America in the three years after the Civil War. In 1873, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. By the late 1800s, many more cities and communities observed Memorial Day, and several states had declared it a legal holiday. After World War I, it became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of America’s wars and was then more widely established as a national holiday throughout the United States.

When Is Memorial Day?

In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established that Memorial Day was to be celebrated on the last Monday of May. Several southern states, however, officially celebrate an additional, separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead, sometimes referred to as a Confederate Memorial Day: January 19 in Texas; third Monday in Jan. in Arkansas; fourth Monday in Apr. in Alabama and Mississippi; April 26 in Florida and Georgia; May 10 in North and South Carolina; last Monday in May in Virginia; and June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery each year with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.