Staff Writer

ASHTABULA - - Students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School learned the origin and meaning of Memorial Day on Thursday.

In a special assembly students listened as Jeff Buehrle, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy, explained how the day began and why it's celebrated in the United States.

While speaking to the students, photographs of various national cemeteries and monuments flashed on a screen.

"I am honored to be here," Buehrle said.

There have been many stories written about Memorial Day and how it started. More than 200 dozen cities and towns in the U.S. claim its origins, he said.

The observance really began in 1863 during the Civil War, which was the bloodiest war ever fought where Americans fought Americans. It is thought the observance of honoring military personnel who fought and died in a war began in a small Mississippi town, he said.

A group of women would go to the cemetery and care for Confederate Soldiers' graves. Those women did the same for Union Soldiers buried in the cemetery, Buehrle said.

That is what is thought as the origins of Memorial Day, he said. However, it was known as Decoration Day at that time.

Also around that time, a business owner in New York decided to close his business for the day to honor soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War, Buehrle said. The idea of honoring military personnel who fought and died started to catch on until it became a national holiday on May 30, 1868, he said.

The thought behind the holiday was to try and bring the north and the south back together as one nation. However, that didn't really catch on until World War I, when it was decided to also honor all military personnel who died during a war, Buehrle said.

Along with the history of Memorial Day, Buehrle also gave students some facts concerning wars Americans have fought in. There are 300,000 military personnel buried in Arlington Cemetery, the nation's cemetery in Arlington Virginia and many more buried in federal cemeteries all over the U.S.

Buehrle also told students how they could honor military personnel. Visit a local cemetery and place an American Flag at the grave or just pause and recognize them for their service, he said.

Besides the assembly, students were encouraged earlier in the week to interview family members who had or are in the military, said Jane Noble, a fourth-grade teacher. Those stories, written by students, were displayed in the main hall of the school.

Student Karmisha Partridge wrote about her grandfather who was in the U.S. Marines.

"He taught people how to march, to throw grenades, and how to use rifles," Partridge wrote.

Her grandfather served from 1942 to 1946, entering the service at the age of 17.

"I am happy that men and women serve are country, so we can have freedom," Partridge wrote.

Jordan Burnett, another student, wrote about his great-grandfather and grandfather, Bob Rivera. His great-grandfather was a commander in the U.S. Army.

Burnett's grandfather also served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Vietnam War.

"I am proud of him and the people who fought for us," Burnett said.

Students who didn't have a relative who served in the military or who couldn't interview that relative, wrote instead about being proud to live in America.

Student Teresita Mandoza wrote she was proud to live in America because the people in the service protect her and others.

"I am really thankful that we have people who care about us, that serve in the Army, Navy, Marine Corp. and Air Force in the U.S.," Teresita wrote.

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