Why we are celebrating Memorial Day

Posted: Monday, May 28, 2007

Although it’s what many people on the Kenai Peninsula associate it with, Memorial Day weekend isn’t just about fishing. It’s a time to remember those who have died in battle for this country.

Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.

In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo — which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 — because the town made Memorial Day an annual, communitywide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave.

Also, it is customary for the president or vice president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Communities across the country, including those on the Kenai Peninsula, take part in annual events to commemorate the day.

On the central peninsula, American Legion Post No. 20 (in conjunction with AmVets and the VFW) will host the Avenue of Flags at 10 a.m. at Kenai Cemetery.

The color guard will be made up of the American Legion, AmVets, VFW and Young Marines. There will be a rifle salute, prayer, reading of the poem “Flanders Field,” and taps will be played.

The laying of wreaths will take place at 1 p.m. at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai with a rifle salute and taps. The featured speaker will be Sgt. 1st Class Will Schwenke of the National Guard, who served in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

Open house events will be held at AmVets Post No. 4 in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road, VFW Post No. 10046 on Birch Lane in Soldotna and American Legion Post No. 20 on Cook Street in Old Town Kenai following the ceremonies.

All of these events are open to the public.

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