Memorial Day is different than Veterans Day where we celebrate all Veterans who have served our country. While, Veterans Day belongs to all Veterans. Memorial Day is about the heroes who gave their lives in service to our great nation. Most important, it’s a time to remember the women and men who never returned home to their families while fighting for ours.
Memorial Day’s History
Depending on who you ask, Memorial Day’s history and meaning is sometimes forlorn in our busy lifestyles. At the same time, the history of Memorial Day isn’t being taught to the next generation. For this reason, let’s have another look at why we observe Memorial Day each year. In other words, so that we can pass this history and tradition onto the next generation of Americans to honor our fallen heroes.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and began during the Civil War period. Historians argue that graves of soldiers were decorated long before the Civil War period. However, in the late 1860s, national cemeteries were established for the fallen soldiers of the Civil War which had claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history. As a result, after the war ended in 1865, many Americans began decorating the graves of the dead with flowers and reciting prayers for the fallen.
Consequently, on May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for Decoration Day to be observed annually and nationwide. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield delivered a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where more than 5000 Americans decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers with flowers and flags.
Disputed Birthplace of Memorial Day
It’s disputed exactly where and who first began the tradition. In fact, several cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day which has been the subject of several studies. However, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson, declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Namely, because there was a community-wide event held 100 years earlier on May 5, 1866, which the town businesses closed, and the residents decorated the graves of soldiers.
While the story of Waterloo may be true, the decision to make it the birthplace has been the subject of dispute by many historians. For example, women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate Soldiers’ graves in 1862 with flowers according to the Savannah Republican. Furthermore, in 1863, the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was decorated and a ceremony was held at the grave sites. Finally, many scholars argue that President Abraham Lincoln was the actual founder of Memorial Day with the Gettysburg Address and commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers in 1863.
Traditions and Observations
Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May each year since it became an official federal holiday in 1971. Cities and towns across our country hold ceremonies and decorate cemeteries to remember our heroes. In addition, active military and veterans hold parades in our largest cities to remember the fallen. In particular, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. are historically among the largest gatherings.
At the same time, instead of parades some folks will observe Memorial Day in a different way. Many will observe Memorial Day by simply enjoying some time off from work. Many families will have a barbecue or party to remember the fallen. Likewise, some Americans will take a trip to unite with family or friends they have not seen for a while. Memorial Day for some is simply the beginning of Summer. Above all, we must remember why we are lucky enough to have these traditions. Frankly, it is because of the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our freedom.
My Final Thoughts
In short, in appreciation it is never too late to give something back to those who sacrificed it all. Sometimes, even the small things we do can make a difference. For example, a few years back, around Memorial Day while driving by an old cemetery I noticed some of the flags had fallen over. So, I decided to stop and pick up the flags and put them back at the headstones of the fallen soldiers. Small as this was, it made me feel pretty good inside. Hopefully, if their family visited the gravesite, it made them feel good as well. And, I remember thinking, hopefully a long time from now, in a similar situation someone might come along and do the same for me for serving this country.
Finally, in 2000, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act.” The National Moment of Remembrance Act “encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3:00 local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.” I would encourage all Americans to educate the next generation about the history of Memorial Day and give something back to the country which provides them with so much freedom and opportunity. God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America.