I don’t brag on my hometown too often, but there’s good reason to. For one, Columbus, Miss., is the birthplace of America’s greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams. His boyhood home is now a historical landmark in the downtown area (that’s it to the left). The town was also spared the Yankee torch during the Civil War — mainly because Nathan Bedford Forrest kept the Union forces west of the Tombigbee River — which meant that the numerous antebellum homes in the town still stand today. And the river upon which Colubmus is perched is now the site of a major lock and dam in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also during the Civil War, Columbus served as a sort of 19th-century MASH unit. Casualties, both North and South, from the Battle of Shiloh were treated there. Some of those casualties who succumbed to their wounds were also buried there, in a cemetery on the south side of town known as Friendship Cemetery.
And it was in Friendship Cemetery where Memorial Day got started. Down South, a tradition sprang up almost immediately after that war, in which the ladies of the various towns across the South took the last Sunday in May to decorate the graves of the fallen Confederate soldiers. It was called Decoration Day, and in some parts is still called that. As a kid, I can recall being piled into the family car to head out to Egger’s Cemetery in Caledonia, laden with flower arrangements, to decorate the Lockhart graves (my mother’s family). This always happened the week before Memorial Day.
A few years after the war, once this tradition became established, the women of Columbus decided to decorate not only the graves of Confederate troops, but the fallen Union soldiers, too. This conciliatory act was noted nationwide, so much so that Memorial Day was established as a national holiday, largely because of the grace of the women of Columbus, Mississippi.
Today was one of the most, well, memorable, Memorial Days I’ve had in years. Thanks to a gracious invitation from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association’s Virginia Chapter 27-2, I participated in a ride through Stafford County to the Quantico National Cemetery to attend the day’s ceremonies. Though CVMA wasn’t the only motorcycle group there, it was certainly the largest, at about 30 bikes. Great bunch of guys, awesome ceremony and a fitting way to spend the morning. And remember.