Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States, one celebrated coast to coast. It has evolved into a day of backyard barbeques, picnics on the beach, family gatherings, and small town parades. But it is sad to discover how few of our U.S. citizens know the history of this somber holiday. Let's remedy that! It's important that we all know - and that we educate the next generations with the importance of this holiday.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began with an idea from General John Logan, as a way to honor the fallen soliders of the Civil War. (Note: The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country's first national cemeteries. Over 620,000 soldiers were killed.)
The first celebration on May 30, 1868, was held at Arlington National Cemetery, with a crowd of 5,000 people decorating the graves of over 20,000 military personnel with flowers. Various Washington officials, including General Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home, among others, made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers, and singing hymns. Many also came prepared with a picnic lunch.
It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all veterans who died in any American war. In 1971, Decoration Day became officially known as Memorial Day and Congress passed an act declaring it a national holiday. That same year, Memorial Day was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May by President Lyndon B. Johnson. “This will…enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together,” President Johnson noted in his official statement regarding what is now known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. In 1971, the date of the holiday was officially changed to the last Monday in May.
National Moment of Remembrance
To ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, President Bill Clinton signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” in December of 2000. The law encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
What You Can do To Honor Our Soldiers
Hang Your Flag at Half Staff
Federal guidelines say the flag should be displayed at half-staff only until noon, then go up to full-staff until sundown. If you don't have a large flag, decorate your property with yard and garden flags and porch bunting.
Visit a Local Veterans Cemetery
Some of the graves in a veteran cemetery are well maintained and decorated by families. Bring flowers and lay them by a grave that doesn’t have any.
Attend a Parade
Pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their life. They are our heroes and should be treated as such.
Do Something Patriotic for a Service Family
If you know a veteran or family of a fallen soldier, call them and say thank you. Let them know you appreciate what they have done for you as an individual and for our country. Some retirement facilities have a very large numbers of veterans and widows. Spend some time with them and ask to hear their stories. There is so much we can learn from them.
Be a grateful citizen of the United States. A high price is paid for our freedom.