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Memorial Day in Jamestown

5/25/2015:

Originally, Memorial Day was a known as Decoration Day, a day that the graves of those who died on the battlefields of the War of the Rebellion were decorated with flowers. In 1882, in Jamestown, there were no soldiers’ graves to decorate. Dakota Territory was far away from the bloodied battlefields where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives. Although the tide of land seekers to the new territory had included many soldiers, the war had ended only seventeen years earlier. Most veterans living in Dakota Territory were still in the prime of their lives. So, on this date in 1882, the members of the Methodist Church in Jamestown met on the Church lawn to plant trees, not only to commemorate this national day of remembrance, but to add beauty to the landscape.

In 1887, only five years later, the graves of four Civil War veterans at Hillside Cemetery were garnished with wreaths, and over forty members of the Grand Army of the Republic marched in in the Memorial Day parade. Over each successive year, time claimed more veterans, and by the turn of the century the ranks had thinned significantly. In January of 1897, the GAR requested that Congress change the name of the day to Memorial Day to honor all fallen soldiers. Within a year, the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection would claim many more lives, including soldiers from North Dakota.

On Memorial Day in 1903, the ranks of the Civil War veterans in Jamestown were joined by the North Dakota boys returning from the Philippines who were honoring their war dead from Company H of the First North Dakota Militia. F. G. Kneeland, a Jamestown attorney, addressed the gathered crowd at the services, stating: "May the American citizens guard well their precious heritage, transmitting it unimpaired to future generations. On Memorial Day, especially, may they recall the lessons and achievements of the past. And may they resolve that this shall continue to be a land of the free … where men shall be equal before the law; and that the American flag shall ever be as it was …. saved by the men who fought beneath its folds—beautiful and glorious, with every stripe untarnished and every star undimmed.”

So on this Memorial Day we need to remember that the past was secured with the lives of our soldiers, but the responsibility for the present and the future rests with us.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Jamestown Weekly Alert June 4, 1903 page 7

Ibid. January 28, 1897 page 8

Ibid. June 2, 1887 page 1

Ibid. June 2, 1882 page 1