ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Memorial Day - Living Memories of Vetrans

Updated on May 26, 2012

They gave their lives so we could live in freedom

I never experienced the devastation of losing an immediate family member in war, but like many American families, the Gibson family did lose a loved one in war time. For us, it was William Gibson who died defending the Union in the Civil War. His older brother, Joseph, fought and returned from the war to live a long life. William was not so lucky. Following is a description of what I imagine might have happened, the feelings of some of my family members as they visited the cemetery where William and Joseph are buried.

The first week in April, Margaret and Elizabeth went to the cemetery to decorate his grave with flowers. On their mournful walk to the cemetery, as they gathered the flowers, they could almost taste the sweet aroma of black locust trees. All around the grave they spread a profusion of field mustard, buttercup, fire pinks and dwarf larkspur. The flowers covered the sod of William’s grave that had only a modest wooden marker in the cemetery behind the Presbyterian Church, St. Clair Pennsylvania.

They remembered William, his bright blue eyes and dark black hair, always the first one up in the morning. He might have been the hardest worker on the farm. Despite his five foot five frame, he could lift more bales of hay, harvest more wheat and dance better than most other men in the county. After his older brother Joseph volunteered that July, joining the 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, William could hardly wait for the following year when he would be old enough to join too. He wanted to be with his brother and many others from Bethel Presbyterian Church who had joined Company H: St. Clair Guards. Captain Thomas Espy formed the unit from young recruits living principally around the communities of Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair. At age 18, William was soon to become one of the youngest recruits. Over the course of the first year in the Army, he caught a cold that developed into killing pneumonia. So it was that William was the first to return home. His return was swift but his death at home was both slow and agonizing.

The following May, Margaret and Elizabeth returned to the darkly green and small cemetery again, and this time Joseph was somberly walking alongside them. He had made it through his three year enlistment contract, albeit with wounds and a lingering illness. While they never knew for sure, they all felt the war was to end soon; though by that March in 1865, the visitors to the cemetery saw many new graves. Indeed, in months to come, many more soldiers, Union and Confederate, would be buried in a variety of other cemeteries, some in Allegheny County and many others in practically every town and hamlet throughout the states.

After the war’s end, April 9, 1865, the magnitude of death and devastation was both difficult to grasp and overwhelming; not only in terms of the huge number of war dead, casualties, but in the unquantifiable toll of human suffering of families, friends and loved ones who fought on both sides. Later, most historians would agree that at least 618,000 American lives were lost, with the total possibly reaching as high as 700,000. In the 100 years since the Civil War, more than 626,000 Americans died in two World Wars and several regional conflicts; but the Civil War stands out as the most costly war fought in terms of the death of American soldiers.

It was four women in Columbus Mississippi that helped heal the emotional chasm of the Civil War by their actions as described in the Mississippi Index of April 26, 1866. The women included Miss Matt Morton, Mrs. J.T. Fontaine, and Mrs. Green T. Hill who planned and participated in a ceremony to memorialize Confederate dead. Augusta Murdock Sykes, a Confederate widow who was at the ceremonial gathering, noticed the barren graves of Union soldiers. In an apparently spontaneous act of compassion, she placed garlands on gravesites of Union soldiers. Others followed her lead. This exemplary act of kindness inspired stories in the newspapers and at least one famous poem, “The Blue and the Grey” by Francis Miles Finch published shortly thereafter in Atlantic Monthly. The poem is still recognized today for its poignancy and unifying qualities.

On May 5, 1868, John A. Logan, the head of the organization of Union veterans (Commander in Chief, Grand Army of the Republic) proclaimed May 30 an annual Decoration Day - a national day of recognition and expression of love and honor for those who have fallen in War. The date was selected because it was thought this was a time when flowers would be in bloom and readily available for ceremonies. The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery with General and Mrs. Ulysses S, Grant presiding. After the speeches members of the GAR and children went through the cemetery spreading flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns, according to the official reports. Attendance at the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.”

It was not until after WWI that the day was expanded to honor all those who have died in American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, designated as the last Monday in May. In December 2000, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, created the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance. All Americans are asked to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

Joseph Gibson Civil War Vetran


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • OCPerspective profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from South Orange County California

      It was my pleasure and thank you for your kind comments.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      6 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This is a great article! Thank you for sharring.

    • OCPerspective profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from South Orange County California


      It is so good to hear from you. I wish we could have spent more free time together too. Let's keep in touch as best we can now. Glenn Hughes has all my contact information.

    • profile image

      Lee Zitko 

      6 years ago

      Chuck - Your Memorial Day article is beautifully written, and I see a very thoughtful and sensitive author peeking through the lines here and there. Too bad we all didn't have more time to ponder together in our busy work-a-day lives at POLA.

      Lee Zitko


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)