Since 1873, Memorial Day has been held in at least some parts of the United States. The day was originally known as Decoration Day, and people set aside the day to remember those who died in service to the nation. This post explains the history of Memorial Day and how people observe the holiday.
The History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day began after the Civil War. In 1868, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared the 30th of May to be Decoration Day. As it was soon after the Civil War, that day was specifically chosen because no battle was associated with that day. He didn’t want people to think the day was only for Union soldiers, but for all fallen soldiers of the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day because people were to take the day to honor the dead by decorating their graves with flowers.
Until 1873, Decoration Day was an unofficial holiday. New York was the first state to declare it an official holiday in 1873. By 1890, it was an official holiday in all Northern states. Southern states recognized the holiday after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor all veterans that died in service to the country. In 1971, Congress made Memorial Day a federal holiday and changed it to the last Monday in May. However, many veterans feel that this has caused the holiday to lose its meaning and want Congress to restore the holiday to the 30th of May.
Observing Memorial Day
In 1915, Moina Michael began a movement to have people wear red poppies to honor the fallen soldiers. She began selling poppies to raise money for servicemen in need. Selling and wearing poppies spread across the United States, as well as to Europe.
Flags should be flown following a special etiquette on Memorial Day. The U.S. flag should be raised quickly to the top of the flag pole, then lowered to half-staff until noon. At that time, the flag should be raised to full-staff. The POW-MIA flag may also be flown beneath the U.S. flag until noon.
Many towns celebrate Memorial Day with parades. Some families visit cemeteries to honor the dead by placing flowers and flags at their graves. Community groups, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, adopt veteran cemeteries each Memorial Day. However, many people no longer remember the reason for the holiday.
In order to remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed a National Moment of Remembrance in 2000. At 3;00PM on Memorial Day, all Americans are asked to pause and have a moment of silence to remember those who have died in service to our nation.
This Memorial Day, no matter how you are celebrating, please pause at 3:00PM to remember the true purpose of the day. As General Logan said, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”