Memorial Day at Big Bear Lake


LEFT –  Memorial Day Service at Veterans Park by the United States Marine Corps League Detachment 1038  CENTER – Boy Scouts march and participate in the Presentation of the Colors   RIGHT – U.S. Marine stands at attention.   Photos by Alan B Clark

Good morning ladies and gentlemen!  Mayor Jay Obernolte greeted the public gathered to commemorate Monday May 26th Memorial Day at Big Bear Lake Veterans Park. He continued with, “On behalf of the City of Big Bear Lake and the City Council, welcome to Veterans Park on this beautiful day in Big Bear; as we remember and honor the American Soldiers who died in military service to our country.”


The Mayor’s speech topic was about the origins of what is now called Memorial Day. The idea of special services to honor those who die in war is an ancient one. Over 24 centuries ago the Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War that is applicable even today.  Obernolte said “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

In the United States this idea took root just after the end of the Civil War. April 25, 1866, a group of women visited a cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they had been the enemy. The women were disturbed at the sight of these bare unmoored graves, so they placed some of their flowers on those graves as well.


A few days later, on May 5, 1866, the people of Waterloo, New York closed their business, dipped their flags to half-mast and decorated their village to remember the Soldiers from Waterloo who had died during the Civil War.  This was later recognized as our nation’s first Memorial Day ceremony.


In 1868 Major General John Logan, who was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, ordered that on one day each year the graves of the war dead should be decorated with what he called the choicest flowers of springtime.  He called this day Decoration Day.  He chose May 30th of each year for the national observance of this day because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. Obernolte found that Logan’s original orders to his troops on the first Decoration Day in 1868, to be particularly poignant.  Logan said “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”


After World War I, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day, and the focus of the day was expanded to honor the memories of soldiers who have died in all American wars.  

Ever since then our nation has paid tribute on this day to the lives of all service men and women who have fallen in the line of duty. Mayor Obernolte feels strongly, that it is fitting that we should do this!  

President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, and the men it remembers.”


Obernolte finds it very appropriate that our nation chooses the last Monday in May as Memorial Day.  This day marks the beginning of summer, and what could be a more compelling tribute to men and women who died in service to their country than the day that gives birth to a season filled with warmth and new life? He believes that Memorial Day is not meant to be a day of solemn mourning, but rather a day of reverent celebration.  

As we enjoy this beautiful day in Big Bear Lake with our families, “I charge you to spend a few minutes today reflecting on not just the men and women who gave their lives for our country, but also the principals for which they were fighting. I believe those principals are the same core ideals that make the United States of America unique in all the world- the principals of freedom and liberty.”


When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead have spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of us living ever could, and that we, the living can only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave their lives.

As we reflect on the blessings of the liberty we enjoy; may each of us strive be faithful stewards of the freedom we have been granted.  Let us never forget that we cannot rightfully celebrate the joy of our freedom without remembering the great price paid for that freedom.

May we always be humbly grateful to those brave American patriots who suffered and sacrificed for the freedom of all-Americans.  And may we all pause, at least for a few minutes today, to reflect on the principles of freedom and liberty, for which they made the ultimate sacrifice.