Grant Park Ceremony Honors Founder Of Memorial Day

CHICAGO (WBBM) — It is a longstanding tradition on this day: a service and wreath-laying at the statue of Civil War General John Logan, the founder of Decoration Day, which became Memorial Day.

One of the leaders of the wreath-laying ceremony was retired Maj. Gen. John Borling of the Air Force, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam – and has dealt with the loss of comrades.

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“One of the things you learn when you spend some time as a POW – about six-and-a-half years – you learn to build walls. And you don’t climb over those walls into the … real world when you have to deal with subjects like loss of friends and comrades,” Borling said. “So there’s a certain sense of … regard and respect and I like to use the word ‘contemplative’ nature of the moment.”

“It’s not for barbecues, it’s for decoration of the people lost in all the wars, and all the people across all this land,” said J.R. Davis, chairman of the Chicago Cultural Mile Association.

Since last Memorial Day, 23 Illinois residents have died serving their country. On Monday, all 23 names were read out loud.

As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports, for the first time at this ceremony, tribute was paid men and women serving on the police and fire departments. Former Chicago Supt. Jody Weis spoke on their behalf.

“A lot of the things we take for granted are only available to us because of the service, the sacrifice and dedication of the men and women who wear uniforms,” Weis said.

About 200 people attended the ceremony and wreath-laying at Grant Park, to honor Logan and the men and women who have died in service to their nation.

Besides founding Decoration Day, Borling says Logan helped start the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a fraternal organization of veterans of the Union Army who served in the Civil War.

  • shane013a

    During the final year of the War Between The States, the Confederates had converted Charleston, S.C. ‘s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freed people, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible. After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.
    The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.

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