Leavenworth has a proud heritage of honoring the military, particularly in May with both Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. Both the fort and town honor Col. Henry Leavenworth, who established this location. Fort Leavenworth has devoted more than 170 years of service to the nation as the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi River.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May which fell this year May 18. The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20, 1950, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman from Independence, Missouri. The theme for that day was “Teamed for Defense,” which expressed the unification of all military forces under one government department, the Department of Defense.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and grew out of paying respect to U.S. Civil War fallen. It’s evolved into a federal holiday for remembering and honoring persons who have died while serving and is observed every year on the last Monday of May. The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, which was first used in 1882. Memorial Day was not declared the official name by federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date (1868-1970) to the last Monday in May.
People sometimes forget Memorial Day’s real purpose and celebrate it as the unofficial start of the summer vacation season with barbecues, swimming and store sales. But this solemn occasion is a time to reflect on American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and defending the country they deeply loved – and “decorating” their graves. Proudly, Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth Scout communities do that at each of our national cemeteries on post and on the VA grounds, marking graves with a U.S. flag. But Memorial Day has another little known Kansas connection as well.
On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day to be observed annually and nationwide as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers, copying the Confederate observance of the previous three years. It was observed on May 30, 1868, and some authors claim the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle, while others claim a more practical reason was that flowers in all parts of the U.S. would be in bloom.
Logan County in western Kansas is named after Gen. Logan.
Greg Beck is a Leavenworth Times columnist.