Decoration Day, 05/30/1911
Did you know that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day? Shortly after the Civil War, a group of Union veterans called for a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers on May 30. The date was perhaps selected because flowers were in bloom all across the U.S. by late May.
In 1888, Congress declared Decoration Day a federal holiday in the District of Columbia so that veterans in federal employ could honor their fallen comrades and not lose a day’s pay. Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day as the holiday expanded to commemorate veterans of all wars.
In 1968, Congress passed a law that named and moved several federal holidays. Included in H.R. 15951 was the official declaration of Memorial Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.
“Scott Levins, the Director of the National Personnel Records Center, recently received a letter of thanks from the folks at JPAC, mentioning the names of 32 men missing since the Korean War who had been identified, thanks to the efforts of this center, and could now be sent home for burial.
Some of the names listed were the names of young men whose records I had processed.
Sometimes, I take a quick look at the ages of the men and women whose records I am working on. I realize that most of them are less than half my age. I’ve had a good life so far. Sometimes, their lives ended just when it should have been beginning.”
—excerpt from Why I Do What I Do, by Michael Pierce, preservation technician at the National Archives at Saint Louis.
Our mission is to preserve, protect, and make available the records of the Federal government, and this includes the millions of files of veterans, living and deceased.These records are housed at the National Personnel Center in St. Louis, and can be accessed by veterans to received benefits, or by families and researchers.
To learn more about these records, watch this video.
Image: A grief-stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. In the background a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags, Haktong-ni area, Korea. August 28, 1950. Sfc. Al Chang. (Army, 111-SC-347803)
POW Week at the Nixon Library
A sheriff-led motorcade will escort Vietnam POWs to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California at 12:30PM PT. Their arrival at the Library coincides with the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s POW homecoming dinner at the White House.
An All-American Homecoming is a new exhibit at the Nixon Library about the POWs visit to the White House. The event occurred on May 24, 1973, and it remains the largest dinner ever held at the White House. This week, the Nixon Foundation is hosting a series of events to celebrate the POWs.
Tomorrow evening, on the anniversary of the original White House homecoming, the Foundation will hold a reunion dinner for the POWs in the Nixon Library’s “East Room.” The original menu will be recreated, including American comfort foods like sirloin steak and potatoes.
Learn more about POW Week at the Nixon Library through the Nixon Foundation.
Photo: Entertainers sing “God Bless America” to the returned POW troops at the White House. From L-R: Phyllis Diller, Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, actress Joey Heatherton, President Nixon, Songwriter Irving Berlin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pat Nixon and Comedian Bob Hope. 5/24/73.
From May 22 to 31, the digital collection of the USCT Service Records will be free on www.Fold3.com.
On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army. With this order, all African American regiments were designated as United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the USCT, and the National Archives is pleased to announce the completion of the USCT Service Records Digitization Project. In partnership with Fold3, the project provides online access to all service records—more than 3.8 million images—of Union volunteers in USCT units.
Remember: All National Archives collections on Fold3.com can always be viewed for free at a computer at any National Archives facility nationwide.
The photo and paperwork above come from the compiled military service records of former slave Edmund Delaney. Read his story on the Prologue blog.
“…when the attack was made on the City of Washington and on the City of Baltimore, the citizen soldiers were in service without pay or rations, several months in each of the years 1812-1813 and 1814. And it is for the consideration of those service that your memorialists think they are entitled to 160 acres of Land each.”
Memorial of the “Association of Defenders of Baltimore in 1814” for a grant of 160 acres per man as remuneration for services in the war, 02/17/1853
Circular Letter Setting Out Requirements for Proper Measures to Secure the Identification of Soldiers Dying in Hospital Under Their Charge, 01/29/1863
Ineligible for Citizenship
Settling in Oregon, Bhagat Singh Thind served during World War I and was naturalized at least twice. However in 1921, the District Court of Oregon filed a bill of complaint denying citizenship to Thind. The case went to the Supreme Court and in its 1923 decision, the court ended up defining Asian Indians as non-white and ineligible for naturalization.
Bill of Complaint, 01/07/1921; U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 1921 - 1926
(Thind would ultimately obtain citizenship a third and final time through the state of New York, following a law granting citizenship to any World War I veterans.)
Remembering Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
Clarendon Hetrick, Pearl Harbor survivor, sits in his wheelchair as he views the memorial shrine at the USS ARIZONA Memorial immediately following the joint Navy/National Park Service ceremony commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2006, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 1,500 Pearl Harbor survivors, their families and their friends from around the nation joined the more than 2,000 distiguished guests and the general public for the annual observance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication SPECIALIST 1ST Class James E. Foehl) (Released), 12/07/2006
As part of our continued commitment to serving the members of our nation’s Armed Forces, we’re joining with the Sierra Club Mission Outdoors program for our first annual Veterans Day Essay and Photo Contest. This contest, centered on the theme “What My Public Lands Mean to Me,” encourages veterans, active-duty military, and their families to submit photos, essays and video about their experiences and memories of time spent outside on America’s public lands. http://mypubliclands.challenge.gov
Veterans, We Salute You!
Veterans Day has special meaning for us at the National Archives where we hold the almost 112 million individual personnel files and medical records of the men and women who have served in the military. Housed in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois, more than 800 staff process, protect, and service those records to ensure that veterans and their families can receive the benefits due to them, can document family histories, and can received replacement medals and awards. More than 5,000 requests are received each day and I am so proud of the dedication the staff brings to their work, often going the extra mile to ensure that our veterans get what they need.
Read the full post on the AOTUS blog
Classics Restored: The Negro Soldier and Let There Be Light, November 7 at Archives I
In honor of Veterans Day, we premiere high-definition versions of two classic World War II–era documentaries, preserved and digitally restored by the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Team.
The Negro Soldier (1944; 43 minutes) was produced by Frank Capra’s Army motion picture unit to help unite white and black troops in the fight against the Axis. Let There Be Light (1946; 58 minutes), commissioned from Academy Award®-winning director John Huston by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, follows the treatment of emotionally traumatized GIs.
The screening will be introduced by Dr. David Culbert, author of Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History.
Wednesday, November 7, at 7 p.m. in the McGowan Theater at Archives I.
A volunteer was prepping an unopened file for digital scanning and found this mole’s skin pressed in the papers of a Civil War widow’s pension file!
How did a preserved mole skin end up in our archives?
The soldier, James J. Van Liew, didn’t care to share his tent with this uninvited guest and captured it. As (a joke? a love token?), Van Liew sent the skin to his wife, Charity. She kept it for years but lost his original letter.
In July 1900, Charity applied to the government for a widow’s pension. In these applications, the widow had to establish her relationship with the soldier, and in an era before consistent recording of marriages, the women often had to be creative. Charity had no marriage certificate, but she did have this mole skin. She sent the Pension Bureau four testimonials from friends who had seen Van Liew’s letter—addressed to “Dear Wife”—and the surprising enclosure.
Just goes to show you never know what you will find in an archives. Happy American Archives Month!