Memorial Day: a day to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the United States military. This year, as they have for the last four years, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Hall and Museum, Heroes Haven, and a team of volunteers are making sure that Memorial Day in Eaton Rapids happens.
Chris Allen, vice president of the G.A.R. Museum, has taken on the role of chairman for the event.
“The G.A.R. has been part of Memorial Day since day one,” Allen explained. “We’re just picking up where the G.A.R. left off.”
The origins of the holiday are often credited to General John A. Logan right after the Civil War. Logan was also commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic. The holiday was later changed to include the dead from every war.
The holiday was originally known as “Decoration Day” because the graves were decorated with flowers. In the early 1900s the women of the Eaton Rapids Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC), an auxiliary to the G.A.R., would strew flowers on the river in honor of the navy dead.
Allen is also organizing a research event. He is seeking volunteers to help create a database of all the veterans who are buried in Rosehill Cemetery. This will involve both a section-by-section walk through the cemetery to record all veterans interred there and some online research. This information will be used for general research purposes, can be updated easily, and will give a better idea of how many flags and markers are needed for the graves, Allen explained.
As they do every year, the Memorial Day event starts with the placing of American flags at the graves of veterans in Rosehill Cemetery. It is an impressive sight to see so many graves with flags when they are done. Volunteers should meet on Saturday, May 29 at 9 a.m. at the maintenance building at the back of the cemetery. It generally takes less than two hours to distribute the flags, depending on how many volunteers show up. The City of Eaton Rapids provides the flags each year, along with replacement flag holders where needed. No sign-up is required.
The Memorial Day parade starts on Monday, May 31, at 10 a.m., beginning at Family Fare. This year’s Grand Marshall is Percy Watson, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War. His son, Danny, was also in the Navy. Watson was selected due to his military service and dedication to the annual parade.
“On behalf of the City, we are looking forward to people being able to come out and enjoy the parade, as they didn’t get that opportunity last year,” said Pam Colestock, G.A.R. Museum board member and mayor pro tempore for the City of Eaton Rapids. “It allows us to pay our respects and honor and memorialize the fallen heroes, and that’s what it’s really all about.”
A military color guard for the parade is still being sought, along with individuals and groups that would like to walk in the parade or have a vehicle. Parade participants are encouraged to be solemn and reserved, with no political advertising. No advance sign-up is required. For more information about being in the parade, contact Pam Colestock via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 517-441-9559.
The parade will head south from Family Fare towards downtown Eaton Rapids and will make a stop at the Blue Star Memorial Park at State and Main to lay a wreath. They will return to this park for a ceremony immediately after the parade. State Senator Tom Barrett, an Army veteran and member of the Michigan Army National Guard will be speaking at the ceremony.
Allen encourages people to attend the parade but to remember to take proper safety precautions due to COVID-19. Masks are encouraged, along with social distancing along the parade route.
The G.A.R. Museum is located at 224 South Main Street which is the original meeting hall of the local Civil War veterans. A new display features the Civil War Medal of Honor which belonged to Brevet General Frederick W. Swift. Swift was originally from Connecticut but lived in Detroit after the war. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call the museum at 517-922-6427.