Memorial Day – A Day of Remembrance
History tells us that Memorial Day, which at first was called Decoration Day, “originated during the Civil War when some southern women chose May 30th to decorate soldiers’ graves. The women honored the dead in both the Union and Confederate armies. It is believed that a Virginia woman, Cassandra Olive Moncure, was largely responsible.” She was French and she may have chosen May 30th because in France this date was known as “The Day of the Ashes.”
According to Marc Nobleman, after the Civil War, people felt the country should have a holiday honoring those who were killed. No one knows which town was the first to have Memorial Day, but in 1866 Henry C. Wells helped start a Memorial Day tradition in Waterloo, New York. Then on May 5, 1868,
Major General John A. Logan named May 30th as a special day “for honoring the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
In 1882, the name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. People wanted to have the holiday focus on the soldiers not the graves. After World War I, people “began to honor soldiers from all wars on Memorial Day.”
In May of 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the “birthplace of Memorial Day because it was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873.” Then, in 1971, Congress made Memorial Day fall on the last Monday in May, which would give everyone a 3-day weekend.
This year on Memorial Day, I honor the memory of my uncle, Master Sergeant Andre Anthony Jeffre. He served in World War II and fought in the Southwest Pacific Theatre: Philippine Islands. Uncle Andy was a captured POW and part of the Bataan “Death March” and the Japanese “hell ships” that transported him to Camp Shinjuku in Tokyo. At some point in his service, he also served as an aide to General Douglas MacArthur.
My Uncle Andy was held captive from April, 1942 until February, 1945. During those almost 3 three years that my uncle was a POW, he told many painful stories to my father, his older brother, Sam. Uncle Andy lived on rice and bugs. In order to survive, he wrote plays that he and his fellow prisoners would perform to entertain the Japanese commanders and troops.
At one point during the period he was a POW, my uncle was placed in a mass grave to be buried. As his fellow soldiers were placing dirt over the bodies, my uncle’s arm moved and they pulled him from the grave and saved his life.
During the time he was held captive, my Uncle Andy kept a journal. When he returned home he wrote a screen play about his wartime experiences and took it to Hollywood, hoping for it to be made into a movie. But, at the time, Hollywood felt there were already too many war movies being made and rejected his efforts. Unfortunately, Uncle Andy destroyed the manuscript along with his journal.
While my uncle was in the war, he sustained a head injury from the butt end of a Japanese rifle. Doctors speculated that this injury led to brain cancer that had spread and ultimately led to the passing of Uncle Andy on April 10, 1955.