Memorial Day Is Much More than the Unofficial Start of Summer, Montgomery Remembers Its Veterans
By Barbara A. Preston | Posted June 2, 2023
Montgomery community members and dignitaries honored the men and women who gave their lives in service to the United States of America, and for the freedoms citizens hold dear, during a well-attended ceremony at Veteran's Park on Monday, May 29.
Captain Dimitra Bairaktaris, (Army), chairperson of the Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee, moderated at the early morning observance. Montgomery resident Dr. Mary Rorro, a psychiatrist who blends music into her psychiatric practice with veterans at the New Jersey VA, sang a song she wrote called, "Remember Me, Remember Us: A Musical Tribute to Veterans." And Montgomery Mayor Devra Keenan spoke about the importance of the day.
While Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, Montgomery Mayor Keenan said it is important to observe the day with ceremonies, parades, and picnics.
"The Memorial Day holiday has roots in America's most deadly conflict, the Civil War, in which more than 620,000 soldiers died, about two-thirds from disease," Keenan said. "Memorial Day was previously known as Decoration Day, from the practice of placing flowers to decorate the gravesites of men who died during the Civil War."
"After World War I ... the many soldiers who died were on foreign soil, so the graves could not be decorated with flowers," she continued, "so the day became known as Memorial Day (in 1966)."
Phoebe Scheer, a Montgomery High School sophomore, plays Taps at the Montgomery Township Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday.
The holiday was first officially observed in May 1868 at the National Arlington Cemetery. However, the first memorial day commemoration actually happened a few weeks after the end of the Civil War, on May 1, 1865 near Charleston, South Carolina at the site of a a former POW camp for Union soldiers—the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club.
The Union soldiers, who died from disease and malnutrition, were dumped into a mass grave. When Charleston fell, and Confederate soldiers fled the city, the freed Union soldiers who survived the camp gave the fallen soldiers a proper burial. "At risk to their own health, they unearthed the bodies of 257 men and place them in separate graves, marked with headstones, in a new cemetery."
Boy Scout Gavin Fong salutes the U.S. flag during Montgomery's Memorial Day ceremony.
"Later that year, on May 1," Keenan said, "more than 10,000 people, mainly free slaves, gathered at the race course and put flowers on the freshly dug graves and they honored members, including the Black Union battalions, such at the 54th Massachusetts. They put on a parade around the race track, and held a huge picnic. It is believed to be one of the earliest Memorial Day celebrations recorded to honor and to celebrate freedom."
"Let's remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have died in combat for our country, and recognize what we have to fight for, and protect, in their honor." — Mayor Devra Keenan
U.S. military fatalities by war. The Civil War was the deadliest, by far. Source: statista.com.
Freedom's worth fighting for, that "define us as a democracy," Mayor Keenan said, include: "Freedom to attend or not attend the religious institution of our own choice; The freedom of our own bodies; The freedom to express our opinions or to gather to express our values; to be able to read what we choose to read; and to exchange information in a free press."
"It is important to acknowledge that those freedoms are ours," she said, "because of the men and women who stepped forward to defend them."
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Photos from Montgomery's Memorial Day Observation
From left: Montgomery resident Dr. Mary Rorro, a psychiatrist who blends music into her psychiatric practice with veterans at the New Jersey VA, sang a song she wrote called, "Remember Me, Remember Us: A Musical Tribute to Veterans." Montgomery Mayor Devra Keenan.
From left: Assembly Member Sadaf Jaffer; unknown; Montgomery Township Committee members Pat Todd and Vince Barragan (US Army); Dr. Mary Rorro; Captain Dimitra Bairaktaris, (US Army), chairperson of the Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee; Deputy Mayor Neena Singh; and Mayor Devra Keenan.
Montgomery Girl and Boy Scouts.
Rev. Chris Heitkamp, pastor of the Harlingen Church, delivers the invocation.
Monty EMS with elected officials.
GOP Candidate for Montgomery Township Committee Pam Booth (left) with Jeff Grant of the Central Jersey Conservative Union.
A veteran's reflection on Montgomery Township's Veteran's Memorial, which lists more than 900 residents who died in wars, beginning with the American Revolution up to modern day.
Learn more about the Montgomery Township Veteran's Memorial by watching a new video. Ingrid W. Reed, a resident Stonebridge at Montgomery, made the video for Stonebridge residents in celebration of Memorial Day. It's titled, The Story Behind the Montgomery Veteran's Memorial. She hosts a regular program titled "Getting to Known You," which is available on-demand on YouTube.
Reed speaks with Hugh Dyer, who is a member of the Montgomery Veterans's Memorial Committee. It is well worth the time to watch this 17-minute video.