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Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day and the Mason Who Started It

The Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis
Don't forget why you have today off.

Undoubtedly, what little is left of the local newspaper in your town today has a story of one or two area service members who survived a war, or didn't. They do it every year on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, half the time not knowing the difference between the two. And if you look a little deeper, you will find comments posted from family members who just want more than anything else for their loved one to simply be remembered, if only for one day of the year.

Please remember all of those thousands upon thousands of men and women whose names never got in the paper, except perhaps for a brief obituary, who have given so much for all of us.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle
My hometown of Indianapolis is a unique place in America when it comes to remembering the human toll of armed conflict and the men and women who have, and continue, to serve all of the rest of us. Back in the early 1970s when the mere mention of Jane Fonda's name could incite full blown bar fights over her gallivanting across Vietnam and venting her naïve spleen over American soldiers, the actress and anti-war activist once sneered that Indianapolis was a city of little more than monuments to war. (Little wonder that the Indiana General Assembly in 1973 officially censured Fonda for her incendiary claims that former American POWs had lied about their torture while captives of the North Vietnamese). 

American Legion Mall
But the truth is that we are second only to Washington D.C. when it comes to the sheer number of our monuments and memorials to fallen warriors. Just in our downtown area, we have the Indiana War Memorial and Museum; the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the middle of our Circle; the USS Indianapolis Memorial; the American Legion Mall with its Sunken Garden and Cenotaph, World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials; Veteran's Memorial Plaza; and the 9/11 Memorial.

Our downtown Military Park was originally the official Military Ground in which our militias would train and drill, and where the City held its first Independence day celebrations. It''s the oldest park in town. 

Crown Hill National Cemetery for Union Soldiers
Garfield Park on the South Side has a monument to Confederate soldiers who died in our Union POW Camp Morton here during the Civil War. Meanwhile, Crown Hill Cemetery has within it the Crown Hill National Cemetery in which fallen Union soldiers are interred. It's not far from the official Masonic burial section. And their veterans' Field of Honor with its Eternal Flame is in the northern section of the property, if you go under the 38th Street tunnel. 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway


Even our internationally renowned annual Indianapolis 500 Indycar race is held on the Sunday before Memorial Day, and heavily tied to its commemoration.

Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial
If by chance you do ever come to Indianapolis, give yourself an hour or so to visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial along the banks of the canal downtown. There you will find all of the names and a few stories of the 3,506 recipients (with 3525 awarded, some multiples) since the Medal's creation in 1861.

But as amazing and heroic and tragic and heartbreaking as those histories are, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don't always receive big impressive medals before or after they don't make it home. Most of them don't, and their stories don't always get memorialized. For every one we hear about are hundreds we never do. They have families and histories that need to be remembered too, beyond just a name on a forgotten stone in a grassy field somewhere nobody visits very often. Even on a special holiday just for them.

A famous Freemason thought that very same thing.

Major General John A. Logan
Logan Lodge No. 575 here in Indianapolis was chartered in 1888, and is named after Major General John A. Logan, one of the most famous and popular Union Army generals of the Civil War. Because he was born and raised by settlers who (like Abraham Lincoln himself) had come to Illinois out of Kentucky, Logan's sympathies were torn by both sides in the conflict. His own brother-in-law, Hilbert A. Cunningham, joined the Confederate Army for two years as head of the South's only Northern-born group, Company G of the 15th Tennessee, before deserting in 1863 to join the Union side, where he became a captain on John Logan's staff.

After the war, John Logan became a fierce Republican, an Illinois congressman and senator, a vice-presidential candidate, and was one of seven managers of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. He was a staunch supporter for the cause of Veterans, and was one of the primary advocates of creating what eventually came to be called Memorial Day as a national holiday – a day that is important all across America, but especially here in Indianapolis.

Brother Logan was raised as a Master Mason in Mitchell Lodge No. 85 in Pinckneyville, Illinois. He was a York Rite Mason and Templar in Chicago. He was also a member of the Scottish Rite there, and was elected to be coroneted a 33° in 1886, but died before it could be conferred.



Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) was officially declared on May 5th, 1868 by General Logan, in his role as national commander of a relatively new fraternal group, the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30th of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. As a result of his own personal circumstances and his experience during the war, as well as his wide popularity throughout the reunited nation, he was uniquely qualified to establish this healing annual day for observance and memory.


HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.



The Grand Army of the Republic was made up of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the Civil War. By 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members, and held an annual National Encampment every year from 1866 until its final encampment right here in Indianapolis in 1949. Seven years later, its last member, Albert Woolson, died, and the GAR formally folded its last flag and vanished. But Memorial Day outlived its creators, and continues to be celebrated to this day.

Don't simply treat the day as part of a warm three day weekend. Take a moment to reflect upon those men and women who have given the "last full measure of devotion" for their country. Start by asking the Brethren in your lodge about themselves, their families, or your own former and fallen members from earlier times. Perhaps even the namesake of your lodge, like John Logan. Decorate their graves. Visit their memorials. Tell their stories. Raise the flag in their honor. Lift up their widows and orphans. 

And remember.

2 comments:

  1. That is not a photo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Looks like the Daytona 500. Ill. Paul Page,33 would be ashamed of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dang it, that photo was in the midst of a huge page of American flags specifically taken at IMS. But I didn't recognize that tower in the shot, so I figured it was some random new one or angle I hadn't seen before. Fixed now.

      Delete

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