This Week in American Military History:
May 30, 1868: “Decoration Day” – the predecessor to Memorial Day – is first observed by order of U.S. Army Gen. John A. Logan, who had decreed on May 5: “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.”
Maj. Gen. (future U.S. pres.) James A. Garfield presides over ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery (the former estate of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee), and approximately 5,000 participants decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate dead — about 20,000 of them — buried on the grounds.
June 1, 1864: The bloody battle of Cold Harbor opens in earnest between Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Grant will launch a series of futile attacks over the next three days. Lee will defend and hold. Union losses will be staggering: 13,000 to the Confederacy’s 2,500.
In his memoirs, Grant will express regret for having attacked at Cold Harbor.
June 3, 1942: The great Naval battle of Midway opens between U.S. Naval and air forces under the command of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and Japanese forces under Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who had hoped to lure the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a great air-sea battle and destroy it.
Considered a turning point in the Pacific theater of operations, the Japanese fleet is intercepted near Midway atoll, engaged, and will be decisively defeated by Nimitz. The Americans will lose one carrier, USS Yorktown (the third of five U.S. Navy warships named in commemoration of the famous Battle of Yorktown), but four Japanese carriers will be sent to the bottom.
According to the U.S. Naval Historical Center: [Midway] represents the strategic high water mark of Japan’s Pacific Ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States and could usually choose where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.”
Let’s increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society’s 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, please visit http://www.medalofhonorconvention.com)