A Memorial Day Tribute
For the last eleven years, La Vista Memorial Park has held a Memorial Day ceremony to commemorate soldiers who died for their country. This year, La Vista honored Pearl Harbor veterans, including Raymond Chavez, the oldest living Pearl Harvard Survivor at 103.
La Vista was established in 1868–the very same year Memorial Day began. The holiday originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War, when the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) established the holiday as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
While Memorial Day is the most appropriate day to visit this South Bay cemetery, the ground are open to the public everyday. I’ve written about their Muslim cemetery, their homeless cemetery and the tombstones of the National City founder, Frank Kimball. What I still need to add is their Civil War Hall of Fame.
Lady Janice Martinelli‘s mother walked the grounds of this cemetery many years ago and discovered a tribute to the “GAR”. Excited, she told Lady Janice that Civil War veterans must be buried here. She did extended research and found 32 civil war graves located at this cemetery.
Today, there’s a Civil War Hall of Fame inside the office hallway as well as headstones and tributes to these soldiers.
A Brief History of the Grand Army of the Republic
Lady Marilyn Zubov of the National City Historical Society wrote:
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) by 1890 would number almost 500,000 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion”. Founded in Decatur Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson. Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Revenue Cutter Service members serving between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.
In early 1866 the United States was awakening to the reality of recovery from war. In previous conflicts the care of the veteran warrior was the province of the family or community. Soldiers were friends, neighbors and relatives who went off to fight–until the next planting or harvest. It was a community adventure and their fighting unit had a community flavor.
By the end of the Civil War units had become less homogenous: men from different communities and even different States were forced together by the exigencies of battle where new friendships and lasting trust was forged. With the advances in care and movement of the wounded, those whom would have surely died returned home to be cared for by a community structure weary from a protracted war. A community who also faced the needs of the widows and orphans. Veterans needed jobs, including a whole new group of veterans–the black soldier and his entire, newly freed, family. It was often more than the fragile fabric of communities could bear.
State and federal leaders from President Lincoln down had promised to care for “those who have borne the burden, his widows and orphans,” but they had little knowledge of how to accomplish the task. There was also little political pressure to see that the promises were kept.
The most profound emotion was emptiness. Men, who lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived, had developed a unique bond that could not be broken. As time went by the memories of the filth and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. The horror and gore from the battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder was replaced by the personal rain of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth and trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.
The Civil War tombstones are a moving tribute to those who traveled here to settle in the South Bay.