Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Aging Generation Memorialized their Own in Woodstock

GAR members, foreground, dignitaries, and the Ladies
Auxiliary gathered to dedicate a new monument.

In 1909 the aging veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and its Ladies’ Auxiliary gathered on the Square in Woodstock, Illinois on what was then known as Decoration Day.  What made this gathering different from others held annually General John A. Logan, the first Commander-in-Chief of the GAR issued General Order No. 11 in 1868 calling for annual observance in honor of the Civil War dead.

It had been the local custom for local residents gathered armloads of flowers from their gardens and marched—often by the hundreds—to the Chicago and Northwestern station to load a special train to the city with blooms.  The flowers were then used to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans and then to gather on the Square for a simple ceremony.

This year, after a long fundraising campaign the veterans and the community gathered to dedicate a handsome new monument in the center of the Square—a high, polished column surmounted by the statue of a private soldier.  The four sides of the base were decorated with symbols of service—an anchor, crossed rifles, sabers, and cannon representing the Navy, Infantry, cavalry, and artillery branches of the Army.
It was a solemn occasion as well as a joyful one.

From then on, even after the last of the gray beards passed and after new veterans from the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and all of the endless almost nameless untidy little wars afterwards, Woodstock gathered on and around the Square for what became known as Memorial Day.

More than 15 years ago members of what was then the Congregational Unitarian Church began a tradition of the Sunday before Memorial Day of marching the two blocks to the Square in silence behind a flag donated to the church in memory of Thomas Lounsbury, an 18 year old church member who died on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1949 and was the first Woodstock casualty of World War II.

Gathering around the Monument the Rev. Dan Larsen or one of the interim ministers since his retirement would lead a prayer and a moment of silence.  Then participants lay flowers on the Monument and return in silence to the church for the rest of the worship service. It was simple, even stark and always very moving.

This year members of what now known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation  will gather to observe Memorial Day in our new McHenry home.  I sure a moving service will be held and once again many of us will weep.

But I will miss the walk to the Square, the bright sunshine, the wind whipping the flag, the simple sacrifice of laying flowers on a wrought iron fence surrounding an old Monument.

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