Born out of the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day continues to be a day of remembrance for the men and women who have lost their lives in the United States Armed Forces.
To honor the fallen, past and present, in America’s history, the Princeton Battlefield Society held its own wreath laying ceremony at Princeton Battlefield State Park in Princeton on May 31. Originally, planned for May 30, the Memorial Day program would not take place that day due to inclement weather.
The program would be condensed from the May 30 event which had been planned to include a battlefield tour, musket firing demonstration, and the wreath laying ceremony.
“We basically started this particular event this year. We wanted to commemorate this important event that would bring together both the interested communities and those who lost a loved one or family member in service of the country,” said Todd Quackenbush, communications chair at the Princeton Battlefield Society, “to essentially highlight the role of service of previous generations of soldiers, because many of us here in the Princeton area don’t appreciate the pivotal events that took place in the area and this particular location.”
The pivotal events Quackenbush referenced are the Battle of Princeton and the culmination of the Ten Crucial Days (a series of Trenton and Princeton campaigns) in the American Revolutionary War.
The Princeton Battlefield Society, which is in its 50th year of operation as an organization, educates the public about the Battle of Princeton, the Ten Crucial Days, and also has a mission that includes preserving and restoring lands related to the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
“Seismic events took place here under our feet and right in front of our yard. As one way to remember people who have served and died here, this is essentially one element in our attempt to honor that,” Quackenbush said. “Memorial Day grew out of the recognition of the loss of soldiers in the Civil War and it is important that we take some time to pause and remember all the people, their families, all those who have done so much to create the country and world that we live in.”
Memorial Day was originally called Declaration Day in the years following the end of the Civil War and Memorial Day would not be officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s.
At the memorial wreath laying ceremony, those who attended were invited to inscribe on yellow ribbons and add them to the live wreath. The live wreath was made by Vaseful Flowers and Gifts shop in Princeton, which provides employment for people with disabilities.
Attendees who wrote messages on the ribbons had the messages secured on the wreath with gold stars. Gold stars symbolize the loss of service men and women who are killed while serving in the armed forces.
Some of those messages included “Thank You,” “Never Forget,” “Jan. 3, 1777,” and names of family members and those who lost their lives in service.
“Memorial Day is about remembrance and honoring those who served and fell for our nation, whether it happened during the American Revolution or any conflict since,” said Michael Russell, president of the board of the Princeton Battlefield Society. “I just want us to be as a society one that looks back, reflects and thinks about the sacrifices that our men and women have made.”
When asked if he has any concerns about Memorial Day weekend and Memorial Day potentially being seen by some as time off for a long weekend, Russell agreed that the weekend’s and day’s message has been lost a little.
“I do feel that in today’s society the message has been misplaced a little bit and it focuses on the holiday sales, vacations and barbecues. I truly hope that people do take the time to think back and consider those who did fall on the field of battle during all of our conflicts,” Russell said. “I’m a veteran myself and the sacrifices made by those who serve, but the sacrifices of the family, it is very important that we understand that those sacrifices are very similar to those 100 or 200 years ago. Mothers and fathers lost their sons, mothers and fathers are losing their daughters, husbands and wives. We do need to understand this.”
The wreath laying would commence at the General Hugh Mercer Monument at the park, where attendees were urged to be stewards of the land and not just of the history and culture.
“One things that all of us need to remember as Americans is that if you look back I think in our entire 246-year history, there has only been 21 years out of the 246 years in which we have not been engaged in some kind of conflict,” said Roger Williams, president of the Princeton chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.
“What is remarkable about the Princeton Battlefield and the sites of the Ten Crucial Days, right here in our own backyard a nation was born.”
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, there are 1.3 million active-duty personnel in the armed forces, which accounts for less than 1% of adults in America’s population of 331 million.
“It is incumbent upon all citizens regardless of what your political thinking is, what your missions are in life, to recognize that a very small part of the population continues to carry on the ideals on which our nation was founded,” Williams said. “We still have a long way to go to get to realizing those ideals. There are dedicated families involved and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. And today is the day we remember those men and women. We need to remember every day, not just on Memorial Day, and history is in your backyard and remember how it all began.”
For more information on the Princeton Battlefield Society, visit www.pbs1777.org.