Oregon has a long, truly remarkable tradition of formal, civic observance of Memorial Day, the last Monday of every May set aside 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.
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.
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.