Lodi Civil War veterans organized Hartford Post in 1890

This photograph, taken on the front steps of Lodi’s Salem School between 1891 and 1894, show members of the Grand Army of the Republic, Hartford Post 155 and the Women’s Relief Corps (wives of GAR members). The Grand Army of the Republic was one of the driving forces behind creating Memorial Day as an official U.S. holiday.

On May 30, 1945, Lodi residents gathered at the Lodi Cemetery for a day full of ceremony to “do homage to the fallen heroes of the past,” led by members of American Legion Post 22 and the Women’s Relief Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic Hartford Post 155.

Just weeks after World War II ended in Europe and with battles still raging in the Pacific, Memorial Day in 1945 was an even more somber affair than usual. Along with the tributes to those killed in past wars, Lodians were remembering their loved ones who had been lost over the past three years of fighting, and the soldiers, medical workers and others still putting their lives on the line overseas in combat zones.

“The memorial services this year warrant the attendance of all, it was pointed out,” the News-Sentinel wrote on May 29.

The day’s events started at 10 a.m. and included an invocation by the Rev. E.W. Gross of Ebenezer Congregational Church, remarks by American Legion Cmdr. D.W. Davis, musical performances by the A Cappella Choir and Boys’ Chorus from Lodi Union High School, a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by high school student Roger Roman and an address by the Rev. William J. Owen, the department chaplain of the California American Legion.

A second program began at 3 p.m., to dedicate an Honor Roll at the Lodi Post Office listing the more than 3,000 Lodi District residents who had served or were currently serving in World War II. That program included an invocation by the Rev. U.S. Schauer of Salem Evangelical Church, comments from Davis and Owen, Mayor Robert H. Rinn, and Supervisor E.G. Stuckenbruck, a performance of the National Anthem by the Lodi Union High School Band, and an address by Warren Atherton, past national commander of the American Legion.

“Atherton pointed out that every time one passed the Honor Roll he was tangibly reminded there here were listed those who had been taken from the classroom, from their business or profession, from their occupation, to fight for those who remained at home,” the News-Sentinel wrote in the following day’s edition.

Retailers throughout the city closed their shops for the day, along with banks, the Post Office and the Lodi News-Sentinel.

The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War collected flowers and delivered them at the home of Mrs. Eva Cain, where they were prepared to be used to decorate the graves of veterans on the holiday.

A year later, the war was over, though the remembrances were no less somber. Members of Lodi’s chapter of the American Pilots and Owners Association were led in a flyover by Albie Lind, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion co-hosted the ceremony at the Lodi Cemetery.

“Honored at the ceremonies were the Gold Star Mothers and the Hartford Relief Corps, relatives of men in blue of the Civil War for whom originally Memorial Day services had been set,” the News-Sentinel wrote on May 31, 1946. “Added significance to the day was noted by speakers at yesterday’s observance for the Memorial Day now is conceived to be in memory of the nation’s heroes of all wars.”

Memorial Day’s roots stretch back to the U.S. Civil War. There are a number of stories of early versions of the annual holiday, though some of the claims came decades later.

In 1862, women decorated graves of Confederate soldiers who had died in the First Battle of Bull Run in Savannah Georgia. A group in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania did the same in 1864.

In 1865, recently freed African Americans held a parade to honor the Union soldiers who had fought for them, and reburied 257 soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison camp and been interred in a mass grave.

And most famously, in 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with his famous address. When he was assassinated in 1865, such commemorations — along with the decorations of veterans’ graves — was widespread.

The cause was taken up by the Grand Army of the Republic, a group for Union veterans, and Gen. John A. Logan, the group’s commander-in-chief, called for a nationwide, annual Decoration Day in 1868. By 1890, Decoration Day was an official holiday in every northern state.

In the early 1900s, Lodi churches held services to celebrate the city’s fallen heroes. In 1903, the Rev. John Young paid tribute to the Grand Army of the Republic and Women’s Relief Corps in a sermon at the Lodi Christian Church on May 23, a week ahead of Decoration Day. On May 28, 1903, the Lodi Sentinel announced that the coming Saturday would be the day to remember “those who fought to save the Republic.”

“Let it be duly recognized and honored by all. Close your places of business. Do not neglect the place of concourse,” the newspaper wrote. “March, in procession, to the silent cities of the dead. Remember the spirit of that sublime utterance of him who rests in the soil that was so dear to him, and whose long sleep is charmed by the cadence of the sea he loved so well. — ‘The words which are spoken and the tears which are shed when the founders of the Republic die, give hope that the Republic itself may be immortal.’”

The Decoration Day ceremonies that year included a parade starting at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, and Lodians decorated veterans’ graves at all of the local cemeteries with flowers.

Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1967. Since 2000, the day has also included the National Moment of Remembrace at 3 p.m., when Americans are asked to spend a moment of reflection.

This year’s Memorial Day ceremonies will look a bit different, as Californians are still unable to hold large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cherokee Memorial Park plans to upload a pre-recorded film of the ceremony this year, including remarks from U.S. Marine Corps Col. Tiffany Harris, who commands the Tracy Defense Depot. The film also features interviews with two local World War II veterans, 21-gun salute, “Taps,” wreath-laying ceremonies and all of the other traditions guests see each Memorial Day. The video will be available at www.cherokeememorial.com on Monday.

Patriotic Flyovers will also pass over Lodi at about 10 a.m. Monday and present the missing man formation.

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