Memorial Day 1917
Today is Memorial Day, a time to honor the heroes who gave their lives to ensure our freedom. It was originally known as Decoration Day, honoring those who fought in the Civil War, but as the ranks of surviving veterans slowly dwindled, the name was changed in 1899 to Memorial Day, honoring the many who had passed on since the end of the war, and also those who died in the Spanish American War.
On this date in 1917, with the Great War in Europe looming over the proceedings, Memorial Day became an even more somber occasion. Europe had been at war for over two years, and, although the United States had not yet sent troops, the horrific conditions on the battlefields were well known. With draft registration day only a week away, the reality hit home that thousands of young men from North Dakota would soon be headed to the battlefields.
Across the state, communities rallied to commemorate Memorial Day as never before, with parades and local embellishments in almost every town and city.
In Hope, the procession to the cemetery was led by the Blabon Star Band and the Fife and Drum Corps, followed by a member of the G.A.R., the Home Guard firing squad, Boys Scouts and school children. Patriotic speeches then ensued at the opera house.
In Fort Yates the pupils of the Agency Boarding School provided a flag salute, and then moved on for events at the Catholic Cemetery. Dr. Aaron Beede delivered the main address where he not only honored the fallen heroes, but he acknowledged the role of those who toiled far from the battlefields. He stated that true patriotism exists equally in the home and fields when each person performs their allotted duties.
In Dunn Center, school children sprinkled Spring Creek with flowers to honor the departed soldiers. In Fargo, lines of automobiles fanned out to decorate the graves of veterans, while in Bismarck, the Sons of Norway declared the patriotism of all Norwegians in North Dakota. In Jamestown, all of the bells in the city tolled for five minutes. In Williston, a squad of Company E of the National Guard fired a salute in honor of all veterans, part of a service conducted at the grave of a fallen hero buried only two weeks prior.
For some on that Memorial Day in 1917, they honored the heroes of the past, but many were dreading the future, and pondering how many loved ones would be added to the rolls of honor for the next Memorial Day.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
“Memorial Day Fittingly Observed at Fort Yates,” Sioux County Pioneer, May 31, 1917
“North Dakota Pays Tribute to Hero Dead,” The Bismarck Tribune, May 30, 1917
“Memorial Day Is Observed,” The Hope Pioneer, May 31, 1917