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Memorial Day 1919

In 1919, Memorial Day was a solemn occasion.  It found an exhausted population in North Dakota striving to return to some sense of the lives they had prior to the Great War.  Only five months had elapsed from a time when their world seemed to be spinning out of control. They were now beginning to put behind them the apocalyptic events of the previous year.

Their lives had changed dramatically.  The whirlwind pace of an incredibly violent year had eclipsed anything ever witnessed before.  The newspapers and letters from loved ones in France provided graphic images of trench warfare with its horrendous conditions, artillery barrages, and the carnage of “no man’s land.”  Locally, ethnic branding and hate had torn communities apart.  It was a time to repair a damaged world and to assess the events that created it.

A. W. Crary, editor of the Devils Lake World, pondered that Memorial Day of 1919 probably would not differ from Memorial Days of the past thirty years.  There would be services in the churches. Business would close down. There would be ball games and picnics and it would be a holiday, a day of pleasure.  Flowers would be laid on the graves of those who died in the Civil War, as well as those who recently gave their lives in the Great War; and orators would tell of their heroism.

Crary believed that after all the events of the previous year, perhaps Memorial Day of 1919 could mark a rebirth, a going back to the old ideas and ideals of the early Memorial Days.  He pondered that perhaps those hollow speeches could be turned into plans for the future, plans to relight the fires for the cause of freedom of all men. These men had died so that liberty might live in America, and might live in the world.  In the one case it was Gettysburg, Shiloh, the Wilderness; in the other, Chateau Thierry, the Meuse, the Argonne.  He believed that by honoring those heroes in Blue and those in Brown, we might consecrate their deeds and pledge to shine a light on the path ahead and, year after year, keep it there.  With future Memorial Days keeping those ideals foremost in the minds of mankind, perhaps wistfully, he envisioned that liberty throughout the world might be perpetuated to the end of time.

By Jim Davis


The Devils Lake Word and Inter-Ocean, May 28, 1919 Page 5

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