The History of Memorial Day
In January 1866, in the wake of the American Civil War, the Ladies’ Memorial Association passed a motion. They wanted to honor and pay respect to those who left their home and families to fight and never made it home. Their plan was to designate one day out of the year to visit cemeteries of fallen soldiers and throw flowers over their graves.
April 26, 1866, was the day chosen since many Southerners considered it the end of the Civil War. Although, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant earlier that month on April 9th, 1865, there were 90,000 people ready to continue fighting. They didn’t surrender until April, 26, 1865.
The Ladies’ Memorial Association wanted this event to be celebrated nationwide and wrote letters asking all newspapers to spread the word. There is historic debate as to where the first Memorial Day was celebrated due to a grammatical error that changed the date from April 26 to April 25. A typo that would create a debate as to which town celebrated the first Memorial Day is between Columbus, Mississippi and Columbus, Georgia.
All through the South, people came to visit their fallen confederated soldiers and decorate their grave. All the Union graves that happened to be in the same cemetery were ignored or unattended, and the sight of a neglected grave was enough to make some people go over and decorate their graves as well. A symbolic gesture of healing the scar that nearly broke our nation in half.
Memorial Day was made a national holiday in May, 1868.
The Car That Helped Win the War
A soldier can be trained to be the best, but the right tools can make him/her unstoppable.
By the end of World War II 700,000 Jeeps had been built at a rate of one every 90 seconds. General Dwight Eisenhower was quoted as stating, “The Jeep, the Dakota airplane, and the landing craft were the three tools that won the war.”
General George C. Marshall referred to the Jeep as, “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.”
Here are just some of the many stories of Jeeps serving their part during World War II, and that made them the icon they are today.
One of the more famous stories is the Jeep that was awarded a Purple Heart by USMC for successfully surviving two beach landings. (If anyone knows where this Jeep has ended up, please let me know, I cannot any information on it.)
One soldier wrote about the Jeep while on tour in Belgium. Private Jesse Wolf writes:
“When the war was at its hottest and the going got too steep. One pal that I could count on was the mighty Jeep. Through beachhead hell, through fire, our metal mounts would leap. With strictly GI courage; I won’t forget the Jeep. And now the war is over. The one thing I will keep For farm and field and hunting – That’s my buddy, Willy Jeep.”
-Pvt. Jesse Wolf, published on October 21, 1945.
Jeeps were so common during the war that German soldiers thought each American GI received one as standard issue. The Jeep’s reputation helped save allies from Germans trying impersonating American GI’s.
In France, a Jeep carrying three American soldiers drove up to a guard post asking for directions because they were lost. The French soldier immediately told them to surrender and found that the three GI’s were actually Germans in disguise. When asked how the Frenchman knew they were impersonators he said, “Americans always travel in Jeeps.” A similar case happened in Belgium when a soldier asked three Germans in a Jeep to surrender when he spotted a Colonel riding in the back. He later explained that he found it suspicious because American officers always drive and infantrymen ride in the back.
Jeeps were used for everything and carried everything from stretchers to .50 caliber machine guns. One veteran owes his life to the Jeep’s off-road ability. Veteran Willingham had survived D-day without a scratch, but on August 2nd he was hit by a mortar during a battle. His upper body was badly burnt and the shock of the impact had left him temporarily blind. He was strapped to the roof of Jeep on a stretcher and taken to the nearest field station. If it wasn’t for the Jeep’s ability to drive as the crow flies Willingham wouldn’t have survived. One can only imagine how many veterans owe their lives to this rugged little green buggy.
Happy Memorial Day!
Everyone loves a day off, but it is important to take a moment to appreciate the reason for it. Whether you agree with a conflict or not, we must not punish or neglect those who risked everything to follow orders. This is a holiday where we can take a break from being divided on the issues and come together to pay respect to the fallen men and women who wanted nothing more than to keep their families, and country, safe.