Fort Sill National Cemetery

Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin, Oklahoma was dedicated on Nov. 2, 2001. The Fort Sill National Cemetery was the second national cemetery to be constructed in Oklahoma and became the 120th national cemetery to be administered by the National Cemetery Administration.

Most Americans know Memorial Day is an annual holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May.

Fewer may realize that it was established to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

“It was started as Decoration Day,” said Cleveland County Veterans Coordinator Charlie Neely, who is part of the leadership team at The Well, Cleveland County’s Wellness Square at 210 S. Jones Ave., Norman.

According to history.com, Decoration Day originated following the Civil War and became a federal holiday in 1971.

In popular culture, many of us grew up with families who put flowers on the graves of loved ones, military and civilian alike, for Memorial Day. We may have thought of it as the first day of summer and the day outdoor public pools open. If we are old enough, we may have thought of it as the first acceptable day to wear white shoes and carry white purses.

But in reality, Memorial Day is more than a day for picnics and trips to the lake and family gatherings. It is a day to remember the high cost of war and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.

While Neely says he would never discourage people from remembering all loved ones on Memorial Day, he also wants them to know and remember its true history as a day to remember those who died in military service.

“The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries,” history.com says. While the first national commemoration of Memorial Day was at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, one of the earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies was held by Freed African Americans. You can read this interesting story here at history.com/news/memorial-day-civil-war-slavery-charleston.

National Cemeteries: The Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration maintains 155 national cemeteries in 42 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 34 soldier’s lots and monument sites. Oklahoma has two national cemeteries, Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson and Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin, Oklahoma.

State and tribal military cemeteries include Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery in Oklahoma City, Seminole Nation and Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wewoka, Oklahoma, and While Eagle Cemetery in Ponca City.

Get help at The Well: Neely works with veterans daily, but he also works with those who are left behind, assisting surviving spouses and dependents to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. He spent 23 years in active military service and holds a Master of Strategic Studies from the US Army War College, the premier senior officer university for Army and other service branch officers.

Neely is an accredited Veteran’s Administration Veteran Service Officer through the Norman American Legion, which enables him to apply directly for benefits on the veterans’ or their spouses’ behalf. You can reach him at 405-593-5365 or via email at cneely@clevelandcountyok.com.

Joy Hampton is a public information officer for Cleveland County.

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