The origins of Memorial Day date to just after the Civil War when organized decorations of the graves of those that had been killed in the war were began in the south. The day was called “Decoration Day” and remembered only those lost in the Civil War until after World War I. After World War I, the purpose became more general and was to remember those lost in any war. The name also slowly changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day”.

In 1968, Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” which made Memorial Day a federal holiday and established it as being on the last Monday in May. This change went into effect in 1971.

Since the end of World War II, the purpose of the day has become even more general. It has become a day to “memorialize” all those that served in the nation’s Armed Services and have since passed away. Late each May, the Veterans of Foreign Wars place flags on the graves of those who have served our country.

In part, the earliest beginnings of the settlement of Almont were due to the service of men in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The federal government did not have the funds to pay those who served, so they gave them “land warrants”. “Land warrants” could be used just like cash to purchase government land in developing territories, such as Michigan in the 1820s and 1830s.

Bezaleel Bristol III fought in the Revolutionary War and received “land warrants” for his service. His sons, Oliver and Bezaleel IV, in part, used those warrants to buy their homesteads in Almont. Bezaleel IV probably also had “warrants” from his service during the War of 1812. I know of these two who used the “land warrants” but there are probably others, of whom I do not presently know.

Over the years, Almont has had some extraordinary individuals serve in our military.

Information is limited on Almonter’s serving in the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. It appears only three or four men served in those conflicts and there were no fatalities.

The Civil War saw nearly half the township’s adult males serve and over 30 of them did not return.

Melvin Brewer came to Almont in the late 1850s to establish his law office. When President Lincoln called for troops, Brewer recruited the men that would become Company L of the 1st Michigan Cavalry Regiment and was named their captain. Throughout the war he rose in rank within the regiment and then was promoted to commander of the 7th Michigan Cavalry Regiment. In June of 1863, the 1st Michigan Cavalry Brigade was formed and consisted of the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan Cavalry Regiments. At the end of June 1863, Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer was placed in command of the 1st Michigan Cavalry Brigade. Under Custer, Brewer on several occasions performed outstanding work in helping the Brigade perform its duties. On one occasion, he led the charge that got the Brigade out of being surrounded. Unfortunately, he was killed at the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864.

One of Brewer’s recruits was Norvell Churchill. Early in the war, Churchill was assigned to be the orderly for a Corp commander, Gen. Nathaniel Banks. He later was appointed the orderly for other Corp commanders. With the creation of the 1st Michigan Cavalry Brigade, Norvell became the Brigade’s commander’s orderly. On July 2, 1863, during the Battle of Hunterstown, Norvell saved the life of General Custer. The next day, Gen. Custer led the charges against the Confederate cavalry, led by J. E. B. Stuart, which was attempting to attack the rear of the union line on Cemetery Ridge while Gen. Pickett was attacking the front. The 1st Michigan Brigade drove off the rebel cavalry, saved the Union line, and permitted the Union to win the battle and ultimately the war. Norvell saved Custer who saved the Union Army and the country. Norvell survived the war to come home.

Norvell’s brother, Albert, is the only known Almonter who was “Missing in Action”. In 1865 while serving with General Sheridan’s forces in the Shenandoah Valley, Albert was scouting for the Army and did not return. He was probably “bushwacked” and his body hidden.

Lt. William Bruce Hamilton Jr. was in the 22nd Michigan Infantry Regiment. While operating as the rear guard for the Army of the Cumberland, which was retreating at the Battle of Chickamauga, he was captured. He spent 17 months as a “Prisoner-of-War” in Libby Prison and then Andersonville Prison. After his release from prison and his discharge from the Army, he became a doctor and served as Lapeer County Treasurer before returning home to the family farm. He wrote the first history of Almont. He was a nationally published poet. His most famous poem was “The Rock of Chickamauga”. It was written to honor Gen George Thomas, division commander of the Army of the Cumberland.

During World War I, 71 men and 4 women served–the first known women to serve. Pearl Zavitz and Bessie Laurent went to France, Sadie Curtiss worked at the U.S. Debarkation Hospital in New York, and Rose Walker worked in a hospital in Colorado. William Hamilton was sent to France and was in the thick of the fighting until the armistice was signed. We did not have any fatalities among these service personnel.

In the 1920s, Sheldon Bristol Yoder enlisted in the Army to learn to fly. Early in this career, he survived a mid-air collision. After World War II, while working as a test pilot, he was killed in a crash.

During World War II, Almont lost about a dozen young men. Among them was my Uncle Richard Hoyt. He was killed December 15, 1944, the day before the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. In the first week in January, my grandparents received a telegram notifying them that he was “Missing in Action”. The last week in January, they received another telegram changing Uncle Richard’s status to “Missing in Action -Presumed Killed”. At the end of February, they received a third telegram informing my grandparents that he had been “Killed in Action”. He was buried in France before being returned home.

Robert Morin Shoemaker graduated from Almont in 1941, entered West Point in 1943 and graduated from the military academy in 1946. He then served 36 years. He retired in 1982 with the rank of a four-star general– Michigan’s first.

The Korean War saw Roy Park killed in a plane crash off the shores of Alaska.

During the Vietnam War, the husbands of two Almont women– Joseph Marshall and Charles Sharpe–lost their lives. Fortunately, we have not lost anyone since.

Memorial Day services will be held in Burley Park on Memorial Day morning. Please plan to attend to honor those who have served our country.

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.