By Fred Miller
MEMORIAL DAY, or Decoration Day as it was originally called, has been commemorated in Ocean City for 137 years. While the day signals the beginning of the summer in America’s Greatest Family Resort, residents and visitors have always remembered the country’s war dead.
The patriotic tradition dates back to May 30, 1881, when Gainer P. Moore, a local resident and a veteran of the Civil War, led a small group of men along Asbury Avenue in the city’s first remembrance of America’s fallen soldiers. Moore was elected mayor in 1884, and under his leadership, the parade grew and became an important annual event.
Under the headline, “Memorial Day,” R. Curtis Robinson, editor and owner of the Ocean City Sentinel, wrote an article in the May 26, 1898 newspaper giving the history of the special day. It began, “One of the most beautiful and sensible anniversary days of the year is the 30th of May, called Decoration Day. The day is not a religious holiday, but rather a patriotic, memorial, decoration day. The right way to spend the day will be largely according to the individual or community’s selections. It is first in order to visit the cemeteries with muffled music and to strew to heroes’ graves with flowers, but we do not spend the entire day in the cemetery or in memorial services. It is a great thing to have a holiday on our hands.”
One hundred years ago, May 30, 1918, Memorial Day was a solemn event with America fighting in the World War. Mayor Joseph G. Champion led the ceremony which was held on the lawn around City Hall. He spoke about Ocean City’s involvement in the war and expressed his hope that the war would soon be over.
Alfred R. Smith, longtime captain of the Ocean City lifeguards, was a member of the U. S. Army stationed in France. Mayor Champion read a letter he received from Smith: “Just as we were starting the attack, the Germans turned their machine guns upon us, and also their artillery. Well, if hell can be pictured any worse than this, I fail to see it. Men were lying shot all round us. In one case as the doctor was attending to one man two shots struck the wounded man and killed him instantly. Then we went over the top toward the German lines, and hell broke out again. Machine guns, trench mortar, etc., were turned on us and men fell right and left. How I ever got through it more than I can tell. Our boys never stopped, went right through into the enemy’s trenches and drove them out.”
Smith continued, “We found out afterward that this was one of the strongest points of the German lines, and the French said could never be taken by them. Well, we captured 200 prisoners, killed as many, and captured ammunition, several carloads, and machine guns.”
Ocean City’s 137-year-old Memorial Day tradition will continue on May 28. The Ocean City Beach Patrol will begin the program at 9am on the Moorlyn Terrace beach. A lifeguard crew will row their lifeboat a short distance from the beach and place a wreath on the ocean. And there is a Memorial Service at 11am at Memorial Park, between Fifth and Sixth streets, on Wesley Avenue.