A Brief History Of Memorial Day

On the final Monday in the month of May every year, Americans celebrate the holiday of Memorial Day. This special day was created so that American soldiers who died while serving in the United States military could be honored and remembered. Memorial Day became recognized by the government as an official holiday in the early 1970s; today people observe the day by holding and watching parades, hosting family get-togethers, and visiting memorials and/or cemeteries.

History Of Memorial Day and Its Beginnings

Memorial Day is a holiday that stems from the Civil War time period. At one time, this holiday was identified as Decoration Day; since people would observe the holiday by visiting local memorials and cemeteries across the nation, this day was a time to decorate cemeteries and gravesites with flowers and wreaths of remembrance. Often times, gravesites are also marked with small American flags to pay tribute to the dedication of the deceased military person being honored.

The first time that Decoration Day was honored was in the year was on the final day in May of 1868. According to a proclamation made by John A. Logan, a General of the Grand Army of the Republic, it was a time to pay honor to all of the sacrifices made by the soldiers participating in the Civil War, including all soldiers and sailors that were part of the latter mentioned organization. In General Order Number 11, it was decreed that May 30, 1868 would be a day for taking decorations and flowers to the graves of deceased comrades. The order further explained that there was no particular format for observing the holiday, and that each post in different hamlets, cities, villages, and towns could establish special ceremonies of recognition and respect.

By the year 1882, the name of the holiday had changed from Decoration Day to the more official sounding Memorial Day. Interestingly, the use of the term “Memorial Day,” did not become popularized until the end of the second World War.

There are a number of cities in the nation that allege that their city is the location where the very first Decoration Day observances were developed and implemented. Such cities include Carbondale, Illinois, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Richmond, Virginia, Macon, Georgia, and Columbus, Missouri. As if to resolve the lasting debate, in the year 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and the federal government identified Waterloo, New York as the origin of Memorial Day. While the city of Waterloo had celebrated Memorial Day on May 5 in the year 1866, and not at the end of May as one would commonly celebrate the holiday today, Waterloo had made the observances a yearly event which involved the entire community.

History Of Memorial Day: Its Evolution

The first time Decoration Day was observed at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield gave a speech. Following his presentation, five thousand people paid tribute to over twenty thousand soldiers buried there by decorating the graves of the deceased. By the end of the nineteenth century, many places in the nation started observing Decoration Day. After the first World War, people began paying honor to the soldiers that had died during WWI and all soldiers were being honored, no matter what war they participated in during their time in the service.

In the year 1967, Memorial Day was proclaimed a national holiday by the United States Congress. But, the new law would not be in effect until 1971. A year later in 1968, the United States Congress had passed a new Bill, the Uniform Holidays Bill, that served to change the calendar and move three different holidays to a Monday dating so that a three day weekend or holiday could be established. The three dates that were moved included Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Washington’s Birthday. This calendar change may not seem very substantial, but it shifted the holiday from the date of May 30th to the last Monday in May, Of course, not all people were very happy with the date change and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Veterans of Foreign Wars still advocate for the return to the original holiday dating.

History Of Memorial Day: Modern Day Observances

Every year at Arlington National Cemetery, all graves are marked with a small American flag. The President of the United States or the Vice President of the nation will also visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and place a wreath there in tribute for their service. This observance typically has roughly five thousand people in attendance.

Some states have added more days for observance of war heroes who died in the line of duty. In Texas, Confederate soldiers are honored on January 19th every year. They are also honored on May 10th in the state of South Carolina; and on April 26th in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Meanwhile, residents living in Tennessee and Louisiana honor Confederate soldiers on June 3rd. Red poppies have become an emblem of the holiday; this tradition is derived from a poem written by John McCrea in 1915 titled “In Flanders Fields”.

Some people display the American Flag at half-staff until noon and adhere to a moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day. This moment of silence is an opportunity to reflect on those soldiers that have died for our country. Parades are also common on Memorial Day with service men and women often displayed prominently and thanked for their service.

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