Memorial Day: Local Roots with National Significance

Legislative column by Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I-Canandaigua)
May 23, 2008

Memorial Day is here again, indicating the unofficial beginning of summer. Many of us have forgotten what Memorial Day commemorates. That is why I ask residents here in upstate New York to take a moment to reflect on Memorial Day’s true and original meaning as a celebration and remembrance of the brave service of men and women who gave their lives for our country.

In 1865, Henry C. Welles, one of Waterloo’s most prominent pharmacists, thought it would be appropriate to honor deceased Civil War veterans from the area by placing flowers on their graves. The following year he pitched the idea to General John B. Murray who marshaled veteran support and organized the first “Memorial Day” in 1866. I still find it incredible that the actions of local residents put the wheels of a Memorial Day celebration into motion.

More than one hundred years later, in 1966, Governor Nelson Rockefeller recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Later that same year, Congress unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 587, reading, “Resolved, that the Congress of the United States, in recognition of the patriotic tradition set in motion one hundred years ago in the Village of Waterloo, NY, does hereby officially recognize Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day…” President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it on May 26, 1966.

Henry Welles and General John Murray were successful in their mission to honor our patriots. This Memorial Day, we must do our part to pay tribute to those American soldiers who have relinquished their lives for a greater good. We honor those brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of protecting our basic rights, preserving our freedoms and promoting liberty. We revere those heroes who perished upon this earth in America’s service.

With unwavering resolve, we must continue to give meaning to their sacrifice. We, and the generations who follow us, must remain devoted to the principles and hopes for which these heroic citizens gave their lives. Sacrifice in the service of something greater than ourselves, dedicated to preserving the principles that founded our country, tolerance for diversity and collaborative efforts to make this the best free nation it can be.

Please, remember all of this on Memorial Day. One simple – but essential – thing we can do to honor the memories of our fallen servicemen and women is vote. The right to elect our representatives on every level of government is something we often take for granted in spite of the fact that many before us fought and died to preserve that right. If you are not already registered to vote, I urge you to do so by contacting your county board of elections.

Please enjoy this Memorial Day weekend and have a safe and happy summer!