The last Sunday of May is the nearest day to Memorial Day. On this Sunday for the past 28 years, I have been listening to the reading in the Federated Church of the names of those Edgartown men who served in the Civil War by others who have also served in a branch of the United States military.

I don’t know how long this tradition has been going on, but I suspect far longer than 28 years. Edgartown’s Memorial Park and other monuments and plaques scattered about the town attest to the attention and honor paid to these men. The church has a bouquet of lilacs on the altar table, and the Edgartown school children on the Friday before the actual day (which has, in recent times been changed to occur on the last Monday of the month) bring their own lilacs and other flowers to scatter in the waters of the harbor. Then I always think of Walt Whitman’s poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, which honors the memory of Abraham Lincoln. This is our own local version of Poppy Day in England.

This reading has become personally meaningful to me. As I hear the names, I remember the stories I have read about some of them in the Intelligencer and the Gazette; I think of the houses, still standing that once were their homes. I recognize the surnames of some of my friends, and think too of the names that have vanished from the town. If you are curious about the names, then go to the appendix of Banks’ History of Martha’s Vineyard, Volume 1. There you will see the names of all those who served from the Island and you will marvel at the number of Edgartown men who served.

Today I heard someone ask why we didn’t read the names of all the men who have served in every war. We do honor and remember those people also by having the veterans stand for the reading, but this particular tradition is one all its own. The Civil War was a defining moment in our history. More than 150 years later, it is still our bloodiest and most destructive war, fought on our own soil and whose consequences we still are living through.