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From the Mayor: The Origins of Memorial Day & The Many Bronxville Heroes

By Mary Marvin, Mayor of Bronxville

May 26, 2021: As Memorial Day fast approaches, I became quite curious as to its origins, so I did a little research that I thought interesting enough to share.

As many of my generation know, Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day. It originated immediately following the Civil War but actually did not become an official US holiday until 1971.

Immediately post Civil War, Americans began going to cemeteries and decorating graves with flowers. Sadly, the United States had to establish national cemeteries because the Civil War took the lives of 750,000 Americans or 2% of the national population at that time. In 1868, General John Logan, leader of an organization for northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30, choosing precisely that date because it was not the anniversary of any battle in the war.

The first large-scale observance came just three years after the cessation of the Civil War when General and Mrs. Grant presided over a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery as union veterans and orphaned children placed flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate dead.

It was also at Arlington National Cemetery that the custom of placing small American flags next to the graves was first begun. It was only during World War I that the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.

In 2000, President Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance, asking all Americans to pause and observe a moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day each year going forward. Amtrak trains actually blast all of their whistles at that precise moment, and Major League Baseball and NASCAR pause events.

The origin of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian war over 24 centuries ago. His words at the time could be applied to the 1.1+ million Americans who have died in our nations wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them graven not in stone but in the hearts of men.”

For such a small community, Bronxville has had more than its share of heroes. Residents experienced the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the taking of Normandy Beach. One Villager liberated Jewish captives fighting through enemy blockades while another identified that soldiers were contracting hepatitis through battlefield blood transfusions. Another resident was an original World War II Desert Rat, and three neighbors were taken as prisoners of war.

Villagers served directly under such famous leaders as General George Patton, General Douglas MacArthur, and President Franklin D Roosevelt during wartime.

Another tracked German submarines in Long Island Sound, and a village doctor treated the survivors of the Wake Island prison camp. Bronxville fathers who served in Vietnam had sons who served in Iraq, and four members of the Bronxville High School classes of 1962 and 1963 died serving in Vietnam.

A fellow Villager saved a piece of enemy flak that literally landed on his lap as he flew a combat mission over German fuel depots while another was shot down over Hungary and went from college freshman to Prisoner of War number 7910, ending up in Stalag Huft 3, the camp that was the subject of the movie The Great Escape.

The World War I “Ace of Aces” and Medal of Honor winner Eddie Rickenbacker who shot down 25 enemy planes and logged 300 combat flying hours lived on Sagamore Road, and if you go down Sagamore Road just a little farther to Christ Church, there is a stained glass window dedicated to World War II veteran Charlie Flammer. A Princeton grad and B-52 bomber pilot, he lost an engine but maneuvered his plane so that his entire crew could get out while he went down with the plane.

In the coming weeks, if you look in many of our store windows, you will be able to read about the stories of these brave men and honestly feel a sense of pride for your Village forbearers as they have won every honor, medal, and citation for bravery and valor.

As President Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors.”

And equally apropos, Abraham Lincoln said, “I’d like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives and I’d like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” We have so much to be proud of.

Bronxville Village started participating in a very serious way in Memorial Day celebrations starting in 1920.

By contrast, the 1919 May 30 issue of the Bronxville Review Press Reporter noted that “Decoration Day will pass with a little excitement in Bronxville perhaps because few or no Civil War veterans are buried here.”

Our first official Village celebration was a small parade populated mostly by members of the newly established Leonard Morange Post of the American Legion in 1920. They marched down Kraft Avenue to the “Picture House” for a commemorative program beginning at 8 PM with prayers, hymns, taps, and the reading of the names of the Villagers killed in World War I.

In 1921, the Memorial Day Parade added an important stop to its route. After parading down Pondfield Road, everyone stopped at the Village cemetery where the graves of eight soldiers were decorated with flowers and flags, followed by another evening commemoration at the “Picture House.”

By 1926, so many different groups in the Village wanted to join the ceremonies that they were moved to the movie theater for a mid-afternoon event. In 1927 and all years to the present, the event was then scheduled for 9 AM and included a stop at the World War I memorial at the Bronxville School. In 1980, memorials to the veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars were added to the memorial monuments in Leonard Morange Park.

Next year’s parade will be the one hundredth Village parade, which given our desire to join together as a community and reconnect, will hopefully be one of joyous unity marked by the return of a wonderful 50+ years Bronxville family, Silas and Vicki Ford, who are going to return from Minnesota to be our Grand Marshals.

Written for Memorial Day, Thomas Jefferson said, “A difference of opinion in politics should never be permitted to enter in any social intercourse or to disturb its friendships, its charities or justice. Let us then stand fellow citizens and unite with one heart and one mind and let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.” – Words to live by every day, not just Memorial Day.


Photo by A. Warner

Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.



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Bronxville Overview

Bronxville is a quaint village (one square mile) located just 16 miles north of midtown Manhattan (roughly 30 minutes on the train) and has a population of approximately 6,500. It is known as a premier community with an excellent public school (K-12) and easy access to Manhattan. Bronxville offers many amenities including an attractive business district, a hospital (Lawrence Hospital), public paddle and tennis courts, fine dining at local restaurants, two private country clubs and a community library.

While the earliest settlers of Bronxville date back to the first half of the 18th century, the history of the modern suburb of Bronxville began in 1890 when William Van Duzer Lawrence purchased a farm and commissioned the architect, William A. Bates, to design a planned community of houses for well-known artists and professionals that became a thriving art colony. This community, now called Lawrence Park, is listed on the National register of Historic Places and many of the homes still have artists’ studios. A neighborhood association within Lawrence Park called “The Hilltop Association” keeps this heritage alive with art shows and other events for neighbors.

Bronxville offers many charming neighborhoods as well as a variety of living options for residents including single family homes, town houses, cooperatives and condominiums. One of the chief benefits of living in “the village” is that your children can attend the Bronxville School.

The Bronxville postal zone (10708, known as “Bronxville PO”) includes the village of Bronxville as well as the Chester Heights section of Eastchester, parts of Tuckahoe and the Lawrence Park West, Cedar Knolls, Armour Villa and Longvale sections of Yonkers. Many of these areas have their own distinct character. For instance, the Armour Villa section has many historic homes and even has its own newsletter called “The Villa Voice” which reports on neighborhood news.

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