In the beginning, there was Decoration Day, a day in late spring set aside to honor Civil War veterans who had died defending the Union. Its founder, General John Logan, was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans group; he went on to a distinguished career in American politics (and is the namesake of Logan Circle).
While many American towns claim to have held the first Decoration Day festivities as early as 1966, its federal holiday origins go back to Gen. James Garfield who, years before he became the nation’s 20th president, gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868 as the graves of 20,000 soldiers from both sides of the great conflict were decorated. And every May 30 for 100 years, the tradition continued, gathering steam in big cities and small towns across the country.
In 1968, Memorial Day, as Decoration Day had come to be known, fell in with modern custom when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act and designated the last Monday in May a federal holiday. Since then, this solemn day of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice has become—along with the weekend that precedes it—the official start of summer fun.
Looking to balance respect and recreation? In Montgomery County, Gaithersburg and Rockville offer a host of Memorial Day Weekend activities, from solemn ceremonies and patriotic parades to restaurants and rock ‘n’ roll.
Respect and Remember
The City of Gaithersburg takes Memorial Day seriously, with a wreath-laying ceremony on the traditional Decoration Day, May 30.
“It’s always at Christman Park,” said Dorthy Winder, program supervisor for the City of Gaithersburg, referring to the spot named for named for Gaithersburg’s Lt. William J. Christman III, a heroic Marine who was killed in Vietnam. “We’ll have a short observance with our mayor, city council and a speaker; we’ll have the laying of the wreath, Taps, the National Anthem.”
This year’s guest speaker, Lieutenant Colonel (USA Retired) Stephen E. Freeman, is a 1973 West Point graduate who followed his military service with a distinguished career as an intelligence officer in the CIA and has served in the Wounded Warrior Mentor Program.
“We’ll also have a place where the public can donate money and material for homeless veterans,” Winder added. Indeed, Martha Toquino of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) John M. Carter Post #9862, explained that the post has partnered with the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH), which provides emergency shelter to an average of 75 veterans annually, in Operation Homecoming. Volunteers will be on hand to accept donations of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies as well as money to help support homeless veterans right here in Montgomery County.
And if celebrating Memorial Day midweek doesn’t work, the front lawn at Bohrer Park at Summit Hall Farm in Gaithersburg will be festooned with hundreds of flags as the Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village Rotary Clubs host “Flags for Our Heroes” during Memorial Day Weekend, with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. Anyone can sponsor a flag, and proceeds benefit local initiatives supported by the Rotary Clubs, including the City’s Wells/Robertson House program for homeless men and women in recovery and the W. Edward Bohrer Jr. Memorial CHARACTER COUNTS! Scholarship Fund.
“Basically, Rockville’s the place to be this weekend,” said Colleen McQuitty, the city’s special events manager. “This year, we have a variety of music genres on four different stages around Rockville Town Center, and we have a variety of restaurants taking part in the Taste of Rockville.”
From Amici Miei to Brooklyn’s Deli to Armand’s Pizzeria to Saffron Indian Cuisine, Taste of Rockville offers a world of flavors starting at noon on Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27.
“You can go on the website, and we’ll have a handout on the day of Taste of Rockville with all the menus,” explained McQuitty. “People purchase tickets at the three ticket booths—food tickets are $1.25 each, with menu items costing from one to five tickets—and use the tickets to pay for their food at the individual restaurant booths.”
This year is the 30th anniversary of Rockville’s Hometown Holidays Music Fest, McQuitty added, noting that the festival features more than 30 performing artists from just about every genre—and that 40,000 to 45,000 people are expected to take part in the weekend festivities at Rockville Town Center. The musical fun runs from 2 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27, with four stages arranged over six city blocks. Hometown Holidays offers special events and amusements for children and — in perfect “summer kickoff” mode — a sandy spot known as “the beach.”
Then on Monday, another 10,000 to 15,000 people will come for the special events to mark Memorial Day, starting with traditional patriotic music at 9 a.m. in the plaza at Rockville Town Square, courtesy of the Rockville Concert Band and Rockville Chorus.
“The wreath-laying ceremony is at 9:30 a.m.,” McQuitty said. Led by American Legion Post 86, with the presentation of the colors by the American Legion Post 86 Color Guard and the Rockville City Police Department Honor Guard, the ceremony is an opportunity to honor the fallen. “The mayor of Rockville will make a speech, and we also have a grand marshal, Retired Air Force Col. David M. Rhodes. And then, at 10:30 a.m., the Memorial Day Parade starts.”
If you go:
The City of Gaithersburg will hold its Memorial Day Observance on Wednesday, May 30, from 11 a.m. to noon at Christman Park, 304 West Deer Park Road. Visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov.
The Flags for Our Heroes opening ceremony is at 11 a.m. Saturday; the closing ceremony is at 4 p.m. Monday at Bohrer Park, 512 South Frederick Ave. Visit www.flagsforourheroes.org.
For more information about MCCH’s Operation Homecoming, contact Martha Toquinto, VFW Post 9862, at firstname.lastname@example.org or MCCH at 301-917-6644.
Hometown Holidays will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Rockville Town Center. The festival is a five-minute walk from the Rockville station on Metro’s Red Line. For information, visit the new, mobile-friendly website at www.rockvillemd.gov/HTH.
The Taste of Rockville, located along Maryland Avenue and Courthouse Square in downtown Rockville, begins at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Each ticket is $1.25 and can be purchased at a Taste of Rockville ticket booth. Visit www.rockvillehometownholidays.com/taste-of-rockville.
The Rockville Memorial Day Ceremony and Parade starts at 9 a.m. Monday in the Plaza at Rockville Town Center, and the parade travels throughout Rockville Town Square down Maryland Ave. Visit www.rockvillehometownholidays.com/memorial-day.