For many Americans Memorial Day is a three day weekend designed for parties, backyard BBQ’s, boating, swimming and fun signalling the start of summer. Just what is Memorial Day really? How did it start?
While there is some debate over where it officially began, Memorial Day started as “Decoration Day.” Toward the end of the Civil War in the South, women began placing flowers on the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. The practice spread by word of mouth, and by the end of the war women from both sides of this horrific conflict placed flowers on the graves of the men and women who never came home. In 1863 The Gettysburg Cemetery was dedicated to honor both sides and the laying of flowers became an unofficial way to honor those who fell in battle. And Decoration Day began a long tradition of honoring active duty military killed wile serving.
After President Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865, more ceremonies were held across the nation to honor the fallen and a movement began. The sheer number of deaths in the Civil War, over 600,000 meant that ceremonies took place all across our nation and gained more importance. Boalsburg, PA claims the title as the “Birthplace of Decoration Day in 1864,” but the first organized and publicized event was held in May, 1865 in Charleston, SC.
MORE FUN FACTS
General John Logan of the Union Army declared Decoration Day to be held on May 30th each year because it was the time of year when most flowers would be in bloom across the country. Although Decoration Day began as a way to honor the Civil War soldiers, by the end of WWII it expanded to include all men and women in all branches of service who died while on active duty.
The Boys Scouts of America began placing Flags on each one of the 150,000 graves in the Jefferson National Barracks in St Louis, MO. That idea also spread and since the 1950’s Flags are placed on each grave at Arlington by volunteers. Each sitting President places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And all National Cemeteries offer solemn, dignified ceremonies while volunteers place Flags on graves on both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. If you’ve never been to a National Cemetery I highly recommend it. You will come away with a thankful, grateful heart for the sacrifices these men and women made.
The title, “Memorial Day” became official in 1968 but it wasn’t until 1971 the law was enacted to have it celebrated on the last Monday in May, giving Americans a 3 day holiday.
All American Flags are supposed to be flown at Half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, but this is a tradition, not a law.
Because so many lost sight of the real meaning behind Memorial Day, in the year 2000 a law was enacted titled; The National Moment of Remembrance Act. At 3:00 p.m. local time each person is to stop for a moment of silence to honor all those who died while on active duty. I can’t help but wonder how many americans actually do this.
I still remember the importance this day had, and still has for our family. My Grandmother and Aunts would make a special trip to the cemetery to lay flowers to honor my Uncle Gene, who died in WWII. His loss still defines how I see this important, but almost forgotten holiday. I share his photo and also the photo of the name of one of my friends inscribed on the Viet Nam War Memorial Wall. I hope you will take a moment this year, to pay homage to those who were brave enough to wear a uniform to serve this nation…..and who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I know I will.
REMEMBERING THE SACRIFICE OF
AND TO ALL THE OTHER MEN AND WOMEN WHO PAID THE PRICE AND GRANTED US THE FREEDOM TO CELEBRATE THIS WEEKEND.
“NO GREATER LOVE HATH A MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS”