When the Civil War closed two ladies, Martha Kimble and Mary Logan, traveled together visiting the recent battlefields in Virginia. The conditions they found appalled them, they came across shallow dug graves with little or no identification, and no one seemed to care. The war was over and many just wanted to move on. Martha and Mary however felt that their memory and sacrifice needed to be kept alive.

Mary was the wife of one of Lincoln’s political Generals, John Logan, and when they returned home they went to John and explained that something needed to be done. John however felt that there was nothing he could do, and he told Mary in no uncertain terms No and reminded both of them that women should not be involved in political affairs. Martha however refused to accept this, and she began a letter-writing campaign to inform Congress of the need for action to keep alive the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. As the months passed, Mary managed to speak to a few of John’s colleagues and get them on her side. The result was a document which is commonly referred to today as ‘Logan’s Order’ and it is the basis for the holiday we celebrate this weekend.

“Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic, Washington DC, May 5, 1868. General Order No. 11.”

“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 rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” 

Who is the Grand Army of the Republic, who is General Logan talking to there? The GAR Is the first veterans organization in this country. All of us today are familiar with the VFW, or an American Legion Post somewhere. However if we turn  the clock back just a hundred years to 1919, there would be no American Legion Posts but there would be numerous GAR Posts.

There was also something else happening in 1919, “The war to end all wars” or World War I had just come to a close. A group of American soldiers, while still in Paris awaiting a transport home, devised an ambitious agenda to keep alive the memories of their comrades who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the most horrible war they had just been apart of. These men witnessed the suffering of the now disabled servicemen on a daily basis, men who were also awaiting transport home. Soon after the war had come to an end, it became obvious to these American soldiers that the United States had no means of assisting the thousands of disabled and unemployed veterans that would soon be flooding its shores. The GAR members we’re rapidly beginning to pass away and the organization no longer possessed the means of assisting these newly disabled, no matter how much they wanted to assist them.

The servicemen called for a convention to meet in Paris on March 15, 1919. This convention met for two days, and the conclusion called for them to form a permanent organization which they would temporarily call the “American Legion”. An author in 1946 put it this way: “They were there to promote an organization which would not take form until the following November. They had no funds whatever, no offices, no staff, no literature. They had been named the temporary executives of a great idea.”

When the purpose of the new organization became known, membership soared and donations poured in from all over the world. The American Legion would become the direct descendent of the GAR and, in some cases, they occupy the same building.

One of the main purposes of the GAR and the American Legion is to ensure that we do not forget the sacrifice and the suffering of the many thousands in service to our country. No! History doesn’t repeat itself, but if we forget there is a good chance that we will make the same mistakes of the previous generations and those mistakes will affect future generations. To give you an example, one brief paragraph in general Logan’s Memorial Day order States:

“Their soldiers’ lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in Chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the concentrated 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 found mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or coming Generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic”

It is obvious in that paragraph that General Logan was referring to slavery. None of us today can begin to understand living in a slave Society. A society that by its very nature is maintained by sheer violence and intimidation on a daily basis. That has been far removed from us, but  even today 150 years later we are required from time to time to deal with an ugly by-product of slavery, racism!

The wrongs of General Logan’s generation still affect us today, and the wrongs of our generation will affect generations yet to come. It’s like General Logan stated, as a people we must not forget.

To be truthful, we all from time to time depend on the American Legion to remind us of this sacred Trust.

Now I will leave you with a phrase I took from a monument that I hope you will remember each and every Memorial Day wherever you may be: “Remember the love of them that came not home from the wars.”

Ed Berna … Presented at Memorial Day at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 2019