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Find A Commemoration Near You To Honor Sacrifice, Build Community

Traditional Observances All Around Oregon Make Memorial Day Matter

Oregon has a long, truly remarkable tradition of formal, civic observance of Memorial Day, the last Monday of every May set aside from work, under federal law, to remember those who have died during their U.S. military service. The diversity and depth of Memorial Day commemorations around the state are testaments to the power and dedication of people. Over the years, local veterans groups, supporting municipal governments and citizens in each area of Oregon have helped organize and attend these ceremonial Memorial Day events. As a result, Oregonians are fortunate to have many Memorial Day observances across the State from which to choose. Each commemoration reflects a community’s unique local customs. Each is tinged with its own richness and meaning.

Memorial Day parades in Oregon

On the morning of Memorial Day in Oregon, people in some cities (Klamath Falls, Prineville, Reedsport, Seaside, Wasco) still maintain the tradition, going back to the founding of Memorial Day, of having full-fledged parades. These processions wind their way through main streets and/or neighborhoods and are truly remarkable events.

Memorial Day parade in Reedsport

Oregonians who are physically challenged to get out to a parade, but want to experience one can tune into to the spectacular National Memorial Day Parade in Washington DC at 11:00am PST.

Memorial Day services in Oregon

The bedrock Memorial Day event for most locales in Oregon is at least one solemn and inspiring public service. Honored citizens place beautiful wreaths. A bugler plays taps. A local band plays inspiring patriotic music. High-ranking military or government officials make speeches. Ceremonies are often highlighted by gun or canon salutes and/or military flyovers. Oh, and there are often food and drinks afterwards!

In Oregon, most (but certainly not all) Memorial Day services are held at cemeteries. As its original name, Decoration Day, implies Memorial Day has roots in the communal act of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers, a practice that arose in various communities around the country during and just after the American Civil War. All these years and too many wars later, the tradition continues.

In cemeteries across Oregon on Memorial Day weekend you will come upon more flags than you may have ever seen placed by volunteers all along tree-lined roads and on the graves of veterans and set against often breathtaking natural backdrops. For example, more than 140,000 flags adorn Willamette National cemetery in east Portland on Memorial Day!

There are services at each of Oregon’s four national military cemeteries (Willamette National in Portland, Ft. Stevens National in Warrenton, Roseburg National, and Eagle Point National). There are also services at city-managed public cemeteries (Ashland, Astoria, Oregon City, Pendleton, Redmond), private cemeteries (Baker City, Bend, Gresham, Hood River, Salem), as well as non-profit ones (Eugene, Tigard).

In other locales around Oregon, Memorial Day services take place at a veterans memorial site. Such memorials are often located within public parks.

Vietnam War Memorial in Portland

Many Oregon cities (Beaverton, Columbia City, Gresham, Klamath Falls, Lake Oswego, North Plains, Scappoose, Warrenton) have their own veterans memorial sites for services. A few Oregon counties also have veterans memorials where there are services on Memorial Day (Benton County/Corvallis). Finally, you can find a Memorial Day service at one of Oregon’s several beautiful state-themed war memorials, dedicated to all Oregonians who died in a particular war (Korean War/ Wilsonville, Vietnam War/Portland, World War II/Salem).

Why attending a Memorial Day commemoration matters

Your attendance at one of these formal observances each year matters for two reasons. First, Oregon history and American history matter. Part of our civic responsibility is understanding that history as it pertains to war and helping our children understand it. Attending a Memorial Day service is a powerful, hands-on way to gain some of that understanding. Second, Memorial Day is completely unique as a holiday, or any day we have really, in its particular focus: to get us to reflect on the nature of major sacrifice. What can we learn from and feel about those who died in war for our country and local communities? What does it mean to sacrifice for something bigger than oneself?

So make it a point to go. Take a family member or friend with you. Look at the smiles and feel the good will and togetherness of the people around you at the ceremony. You’ll be glad you made the effort.

Memorial Day In Brief

MEMORIAL DAY

Annual Date:
Last Monday of May

Commemorates:
The more than one million men and women of the United States military–including nearly 6,000 Oregonianswho gave their lives in service of their country from the Civil War to the present.

Former Name & Annual Date:
Decoration Day, May 30th

First Celebrated Nationally and Annually:
May 30, 1868 (Arlington National Cemetery, VA)

Codified into State Law:
1871 (Michigan); 1873 (New York); by 1890 (all 25 Union states)

Codified into Federal Law:
1889 (designation of May 30 as federal holiday of Decoration Day, memorializing all Civil War soldiers who died); 1938 (designation of Decoration Day as federal holiday memorializing all U.S. military fatalities in war); 1950 (requirement of annual Presidential Proclamation); 1967 (name change to “Memorial Day”); 1968 (change from May 30 to last Monday in May, effective 1971); 2000 (National Moment of Silence)

Key Civic Events Marking Today’s Observance:

  • Volunteers, relatives and friends place U.S. flags and flowers on graves of American military veterans.
  • U.S. flags fly at half staff from dawn until noon per Presidential proclamation as required by federal law (36 U.S. Code 116).
  • Citizens attend parades and/or gather for short programs held at local cemeteries or memorials.
  • Per presidential proclamation people and media outlets of the United States “observe Memorial Day” as day of “prayer for a permanent peace.” During a “period of time” during the day required by federal law (usually the hour of 11:00am per Presidential proclamation) people of the United States “may unite in prayer” and reflection.
  • Moment of silence occurs at 3:00pm per federal law (36 U.S. Code 116).

Flag at half staff in North Plains Oregon on Memorial Day

Attend a Memorial Day ceremony.
Take a friend or family member.
You’ll be glad you did.

Telling the Story of Those Who Served and Died in Wartime

Is there a special person who died while in U.S. military service during wartime who you are remembering this Memorial Day?

Each person who served in the military during a U.S. or foreign war and died before his or her time while making that effort, has a unique individual story. Some such stories are lost to history and recollection. But not all are. In fact, we ourselves may carry part of the story of a particular service member, who, though lost to war, nonetheless endures, still special and present to us.

Maybe it’s the story of one of the 6,000 Oregonians who served and died in war. Or maybe it’s the story of someone who lived outside the state and served and died from war and whose connection to Oregon is, well, us. Remembering a person who served in wartime and died as a result can of course be very hard, on Memorial Day or any day. Sharing their story is a deeply personal choice. At the same time, for many, recalling someone’s life and being willing to share how it intersected with service during wartime is a gift.

One story

For me, as a lifetime Oregonian, it is a gift on Memorial Day to be able to remember and appreciate the story of my cousin, Second Lieutenant Sidney C. Mink. Born in 1917 in Portland, Oregon, in the midst of World War I, Sidney was the only child of Russian immigrants Rose and Benny Caplin. Before Sidney’s first birthday, his father Benny died of Hodgkin’s Disease. Sidney then grew up mainly in Los Angeles, raised by his mom and step-father, Harry Mink. At 24, in the middle of World War II, Sidney enlisted in the U.S. Army, becoming a bombardier flying B-17s . He died in battle on January 29, 1944, age 27, while flying over Hamburg Germany when he and his crew mates’ plane was shot down. He received a purple heart and two bronze stars.

Their story

Memorial Day in Oregon provides a way to make present, and potentially even more lasting, something from the past that has great meaning to us, namely the people we have lost to wartime military service. Simply by thinking about them on Memorial Day, we honor them. Simply by using the day to talk about their lives, we honor them. And we honor them simply by going, perhaps together with a friend or family member, to a local Memorial Day commemoration. When we turn our attention to what the people we have lost to wartime military service did–when we help tell their stories–they re-influence the world, in new ways.

Your story

Is there a special person connected to Oregon who died while in service during wartime who you remember on Memorial Day? Below in the Comments section is one place to share something about that person, if you like. What was his or her name? Which branch and war(s) did he or she serve in? What did he or she believe about life and service in America’s military?

Thank you in advance for your words.