Over time, the 3-day-long Memorial Day holiday weekend has become known as the unofficial kickoff of summer beach season around the nation. Over the weekend, crowds descend onto Amelia Island’s coastline, as long as the weather is nice. Others prefer to stick around the house or in the neighborhood, gathering with friends and family for backyard barbecues.
Remembering Sacrifice Of The Fallen
Far more solemn gatherings are also held, ceremonies to remember why Memorial Day came into being. A day dedicated to honor the brave throughout history who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. military. Across America, flags are lowered to half-staff from sunrise to noon on the last Monday in May each year, the federal holiday. Memorial Day this year is Monday, May 29, 2023, a day to remember, pause, and reflect on the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day Ceremony – 11 am, Monday, May 29, 2023 In Fernandina Beach
A local tradition on Amelia Island is the annual Memorial Day ceremony presented in downtown Fernandina Beach. People gather near the “Monument To Our Fallen” by the riverfront at the foot of Fernandina’s Centre Street (at Front Street). The program this year is hosted by Fernandina’s American Legion Post 54. Retired Navy Captain, Patrick Toohey, and Post 54 Commander, Steve Bradshaw will provide the keynote address. The public is welcomed to bring beach chairs to sit and listen, the program scheduled to begin at 11 a.m on Monday, May 29, 2023.
Speakers, Taps, Wreath-Laying At Amelia River
A long tradition held at Arlington National Cemetery is the U.S. presidential wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. At the local level, a wreath-laying ceremony takes place at the Fernandina riverfront after scheduled speakers have concluded the program at the foot of Centre Street/Front Street.
Those gathered downtown near the Veterans Memorial walk over to the boardwalk along the Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina (pictured above on north side of Brett’s Waterway Cafe), to watch the laying of the wreath on the river. As seen below, a floral wreath is transferred onto a Nassau County Sheriff’s boat and then placed into the river. (Scenes published here are from Amelia Island Living’s photo archives from a previous Memorial Day ceremony.)
Origins of Memorial Day — Decorating Graves
In contemporary times, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the horrific death toll of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Estimates are around 620,000 military fatalities, but some historians in more recent times think it was much higher.
To this day, the American Civil War holds the grim position of highest number of military fatalities of all major U.S. wars dating back to the birth of the nation. By comparison, American military fatalities during the next deadliest war — World War II (1939-1945) — are reported at an estimated 405,399.
Known As “Decoration Day” After Civil War
In the aftermath of the Civil War, there was widespread mourning across the nation. All around America, people decorated graves, honoring the dead. Becoming known as “Decoration Day,” this started about one hundred years before the federal Memorial Day holiday was officially observed by the U.S. government in the 20th Century.
Who Was John Alexander Logan?
Dating back to May 1868, John Alexander Logan, who had served as a general in the Union Army, is credited with starting what has become Memorial Day (see excerpt below). According to “Pieces of History,” published by the U.S. National Archives:
“On May 5, 1868, Logan issued “General Orders No. 11” to the members of the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic]. In it, he designates May 30, 1868, as the day for the “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Logan also expressed his wish that the observance should “be kept up year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades.”SOURCE: The Nation’s Sacrifice: The Origins & Evolution of Memorial Day, National Archives
John A. Logan was a former Democrat from Illinois before the Civil War, holding a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but resigned in 1862 to volunteer in the U.S. Army. After the war, he returned to congress as a Republican, re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and later became a United States Senator.
The first official observance of this new federal holiday began in 1971 (a few years after President Lyndon B. Johnson had signed it into law in 1968).
For some, sadly, Memorial Day is extremely personal for spouses, parents who’ve lost sons or daughters, kids who’ve lost fathers or mothers, siblings missing brothers or sisters and other family members. Some have lost loved ones in more recent times, and many others remember and honor those lost from past generations.