Remembering the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)

SGS member Sally Daugherty shares a Memorial Day tribute to her great grandfather, Charles L. Robinson, Sr. (1845 – 1943).

For once our official Memorial Day is on the 31st, like the original day of celebration back in my great grandfather’s day. He (Charles L Robinson, Sr.) was a leader in the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic, our first national vet organization) and the last surviving member of his”Post” as the local groups were called. It was named The U S Grant GAR post 004 of Melrose, MA. When he died it ceased to exist, as every GAR post eventually did. So that great groundbreaking veterans organization ceased to exist in my lifetime. But their good works live on today, in Oregon: veterans pensions, housing, homes for aging vets and their wives, counseling  services and most of all that first national holiday to honor veterans, the memory and sacrifice, with a day of remembrance. 

When the first Memorial Day celebrations began there were no national US veterans cemeteries. So the dead were buried in each hometown cemetery. The purpose of Memorial Day was to locate and at least visit every civil war grave, clear away the weeds and lay a memorial wreath showing gratitude for their sacrifice. In Melrose there was also a big parade, speeches and of course, visits to each veteran grave. Wreaths were made in advance by school children in order to learn the history and about patriotism. 

My GGR Robinson was the leader of at least one parade during the 1930’s. He was followed in turn by visiting GAR members, their wives plus widows, and then organizations of the sons, daughters of Civil War vets. Then came the vets of other wars, the American Legion, etc. It was an important community event. (I have copies of the newspaper clippings, saved during the depression by the WPA) in my files if you would like a copy

After WWII was declared, civil defense restrictions put a damper on time spent absent from work and public displays. And after my GGR passed on (1943) there was no longer a local GAR post to organize such things. Younger folks carried on the tradition in Melrose but it evolved as a matter of course.

Nationally the WWI Vets secured a separate day of remembrance, Nov 11, and in recent years steadfastly refused to give it up. Not so for the Memorial Day of May 31st, our first national day of remembrance. Soon overshadowed by generations of younger vets, it has been converted to just another floating Monday holiday; time enough for a short road trip or a spendy shopping spree. Who remembers the civil war dead anyway? Well, this year we might be in for a change. Lessons long overdue as the recent Jan 6th insurrection warns us. Could a civil war happen again?”

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