Some Memorial Day History

Memorial Day History Memorial Day is a day that has been designated to remember those who have sacrificed their lives to help us maintain our freedoms. The day traditionally has been one that is observed with families and friends visiting cemeteries and memorials to pay homage to their loved ones. It is unfortunate that our younger generations, for the most part, are not taught the history of this holiday. Do You? Let’s find out.
Originally called Decoration Day, it was actually started in the South years before it became a national holiday. Southern mothers and widows began decorating graves in local cemeteries not long after the Civil War ended. Both Union and Confederate graves were decorated. This practice was later picked up in the North, eventually becoming the national holiday we now celebrate. The first Decoration Day Parade was held by freed slaves who paraded to celebrate their freedom and were joined by many Southern whites who participated to celebrate the end of the war.

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that it should be observed on May 30. This date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first Decoration Day was thus celebrated on May 30, 1868. It was observed by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers during the first national celebration. Gen. James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which around 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years.

Selling Poppies

You have probably seen veterans groups selling poppies when you are out shopping. In 1915, inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, Moina Michael came up with an idea of wearing red poppies on Decoration day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. They are now recognized as the Memorial Day Flower. Although the poppies are about a fourth of the size sold 50 years ago, the purpose is still the same

Small American Flags

Since the late 1950’s, on the Thursday just before the Memorial day, around 1200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day.

More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye’s Heights (the Luminaria Program).

National Moment of Remembrance

In the year 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution passed. At 3pm on Memorial Day all Americans are asked to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance & respect by pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

Some Other Memorial Day Trivia

  • On Memorial Day, the flag should be at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.
  • “Taps” is often played at ceremonies on Memorial Day.
  • New York was the 1st state to officially recognize Memorial Day.
  • Flowers and flags are the two most popular items people use to remember soldiers.
  • The south refused to honor the dead on Memorial Day until after World War I when the meaning of Memorial Day changed from honoring civil war dead to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
  • And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
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