I was so sick of hearing of the holiday, I’m sad to say until last year I hadn’t even visited the National Memorial Day Museum that is located in the town. The same goes for my father, a lifelong resident of Waterloo for 54 years.
After I left for college I was glad to be away from the celebration, but I stopped to watch national coverage on television and read articles online. I became discouraged that first year, when nowhere was there a mention of Waterloo.
Sure, they mention how a form of Decoration Day unofficially began across the country as a way to honor those soldiers who died in the Civil War. They also mention Gen. John Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic who first thought towns should observe their Memorial Day celebrations on the same day of May 30, 1868.
But no one hears of local druggist Henry Welles and Gen. John B. Murray, Waterloo residents who felt veterans who lost their lives in all wars should be honored. Those two men coordinated the first two official decoration and memorial events on May 5, 1866 and 1867 within the town.
Also, no one hears the local stories that made the two men feel a day of observance was needed.
Take the story of young Waterloo resident Wyman Johnson, who is said to have been out working in the fields of his family farm when the Civil War was declared. He took the scythe he was using to cut wheat and stuck it in a tree in front of his family’s home, telling his mother that’s where it would stay until he returned. Johnson never made it home and is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the south. Rusted pieces of the scythe still remain in the 100 foot-tall tree.