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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS The History of Memorial Day and Ways to Honor Fallen Service Members

May 28, 2021 10:38AM ● By Editor
By Pat Strand, Cook County Veterans Service Officer from Cook County MN - May 28, 2021

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

With all of the Memorial Day backyard BBQs and long weekend plans, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the festivities and forget what the holiday is actually about: to remember and honor all military personnel who have died in the service of our country. Let us never forget the sacrifices of our fallen and their families and to keep those who gave everything to protect our country at the forefront of our mind during our celebrations. It is because of their sacrifices that we enjoy the freedoms we have.

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our nation in their service with the U.S. Military. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began after the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865. The Civil War claimed more lives (620,000 or more) than any other conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. People mourning their loss began to lay flowers and place flags on the graves of the fallen.  

On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, leader of an organization for northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. He chose the May 30, 1868, as a day to decorate the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lay in the churchyards of almost every city, village and hamlet in the country. May 30 was chosen by Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any specific battle. Logan called it Decoration Day.

The origin of the current name of the holiday is unclear, but in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, as the official birthplace of “Memorial Day.” The city established its Memorial Day on May 5, 1866. Decoration Day originally honored only those lost in the Civil War, but during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate all American military personnel who died in all wars. In 1968 Congress officially declared Memorial Day a federal holiday and established it as the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend for federal employees. Let us never forget why Memorial Day exists and take time to honor our fallen veterans. Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time. Please take a moment to remember those who sacrificed their lives for your freedom.

The American Legion Post 413 will hold a short program on the lawn of the Cook County Courthouse at the Veterans Memorial  weather permitting. The program will begin at 11 a.m. If it rains, the post is planning on moving the program to the Harbor Light Bar and Grill. Following the program at noon, the Women’s Auxiliary will host a free meal for veterans and their spouses. The Harbor Light Bar and Grill is the new home of the American Legion Post 413.     

The Minnesota Department of Veteran’s Affairs will once again hold a virtual Memorial Day program.  The State Veterans Cemeteries remain open and visitors are welcome to visit on Memorial Day when American flags will be displayed along the entrance street and on all graves in the cemeteries.

Gov. Tim Walz and Larry Herke, Commissioner of MDVA, will provide personal stories during the ceremony and music and a rifle salute will also be featured.

MDVA will again partner with Twin Cities PBS-TPT to create a 30-minute Memorial Day program entitled “Reflections: Memorial Day 2021” that will be broadcast across the state on TPT’s Minnesota channel at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 31. The program will be broadcasted again Sunday, June 6 at 8 a.m. and can be seen any time after Memorial Day on MDVA’s website.

If you are looking for a way to support our veterans, there are many veteran organizations you can donate to and, as always, do a check of the organization before donating. MDVA can accept donations online. For detailed information about giving opportunities go to the website  

There are always items our state veterans homes need for their residents. Contact the veterans home you wish to donate to, and they will provide you with a list of needs and they can give you details on the donation process. For Silver Bay Veterans Home, contact Joyce Scott at 218-353-8704 or email [email protected]

The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans does amazing work with veterans up and down the shore and all around the state. These are but a few of the many organizations in communities across our state who support our veterans.

You can fly an American flag in support of our veterans. If you fly our flag, please remember to adhere to the U.S. Flag Code. If you are already flying the American flag, be sure to give it a quick check. If it is tattered and faded, please take it down and dispose of it properly with honor. 

Teach your children the meaning of Memorial Day and remember at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to take a moment and remember the lives lost for our freedoms – the cost of freedom. Don’t forget to include in your thoughts and prayers our Gold Star Families, the families of the fallen.

I encourage all veterans to connect with their county veterans service officer, or CVSO, to determine if they are eligible for any state or federal veterans benefits. When discharged, a veteran’s first stop should be to their local county recorder’s office to record their DD214, a document that verifies a service member's proof of military service. The second stop should be to their county veterans service office for a check on available benefits. No matter what the age of the veteran, it is always best practice to record your discharge papers and talk to your CVSO about benefits you may be eligible for. If you are not eligible for state or federal benefits, there may be other programs you could be connected to that are offered to veterans through a variety of organizations dedicated to helping veterans in need.

To contact your veteran service officer for Cook County, Pat Strand, call 218-387-3639 or the office cell 218-264-9092 and leave a brief message. Office hours are Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-noon.  

Have a very safe and enjoyable Memorial Day. 

“Our flag doesn’t fly because the wind moves it, but because of the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” -  Author unknown

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service


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