Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the beginning of summertime fun, the Indianapolis 500, picnics and special retail sales, but Jennings County communities will take time to gather and again observe what local officials say is the true meaning of the holiday.
Local officials and organizations from across the county will participate in a Memorial Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday at the Vernon Cemetery, 315 S. Pike St. in Vernon. The ceremony is open to the public.
“Memorial Day has always been important around here,” said Vernon Mayor Dan Wright. “I remember as a kid, a lot of people still called it Decoration Day. My grandparents would come and get me and we went around to cemeteries and decorated family graves. Then, that was an important part of the day and most people did it. It seems not as many people do that now. But we still have the ceremony.”
The ceremony conducted every year at the Vernon Cemetery follows the tradition of the first memorial ceremony, which celebrates the end of the Revolutionary War and honored the soldiers who died fighting for the new nation. The first Great Jubilee Day was conducted on the last Monday of May 1783. That day began with a ceremony of prayers, canon fire and a parade.
North Vernon’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2021 will provide the military honors for this year’s Memorial Day ceremony. It will include a flag ceremony, the playing of taps, bagpipes, a volley of gun fire, brief speeches and prayers.
The Civil War re-enactment group, the Jennings County Vernon Greys will also participate in the Memorial Day service — notable because the Civil War played and important role in the history of Memorial Day.
The Great Jubilee Day was unofficially celebrated across the growing nation every year from 1783 until the end of the Civil War. Following the Civil War, Gen. John A. Logan led a movement to designate an official day in honor of the Civil War dead. Annual ceremonies continued to follow the military rituals of the early Great Jubilation Day but a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers also became popular.
In 1868, the annual celebration of the Great Jubilee Day was officially renamed “Decoration Day” and the date was moved from the last Monday in May to May 30.
By the end of World War I, many people began referring to Decoration Day as “Memorial Day” and popularity for the name continued to grow through World War II.
In 1967, the U.S. Congress officially renamed the holiday as Memorial Day. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, which returned the official date back to the last Monday in May as first celebrated on Great Jubilee Day.
In recent years, Memorial Day ceremonies often include law enforcement and emergency response personnel who have loss their lives in the service of their nation in addition to those who have died in military service.
“Memorial Day is a good time for all of us to come together to remember those who have died to protect us,” said retired Jennings County veteran services officer Michael Eastman. “And here we include the first responders who also protect us. That means law enforcement, firemen and emergency medical personnel.”
Traditionally, Vernon hosts the Jennings County Memorial Day ceremony and North Vernon hosts the Veterans Day ceremony. This year, North Vernon Mayor Mike Ochs will be filling in for the Vernon mayor.
“I feel terrible about missing the Memorial Day ceremony. I think it is the first time ever, but my son is leaving for overseas military duty. It’s ironic, but this is the last time we will have to see him before he leaves and we are going,” Wright said.
What: Memorial Day Ceremony, open to public
When: 11 a.m. Monday
Where: Vernon Cemetery, 315 S. Pike St. in Vernon