Memorial Day - observed on the last Monday in May
Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.
On May 5th 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), established Decoration Day. This served as a day for the nation to decorate with flowers, the graves of those who lost their lives in the war. Logan then proclaimed that Decoration Day should be observed annually on May 30th. It is said that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. While many states and cities claim to be the birthplace of this holiday, it is recorded that the first community-wide observance was held that year at the Arlington National Cemetery. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies which included the children from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphan Home and members of the Grand Army of the Republic making their way through the cemetery, placing flowers on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, singing hymns and reciting prayers.
Informal springtime tributes to remember those lost in the Civil War had already been held in various places. One of the first occurred on April 25, 1866, in Columbus, Mississippi, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. These women noticed that nearby graves of Union soldiers had been neglected because they were the enemy. Disheartened at the sight of the bare graves, the women were compelled to place some of their flowers on the graves of those men as well.
Some 25 cities have claimed a connection with the origin or birthplace of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the Civil War dead are buried. However, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the "birthplace" of Memorial Day. A ceremony was held there on May 5, 1866, honoring the local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses were closed and many residents flew flags at half-staff to show their support. Those who support Waterloo's claim of being the first say that previous observances were either informal, not community-wide, or were one-time events.
Memorial Day ceremonies were being held annually on May 30th throughout the nation by the end of the 19th century. However, it was not until after World War I that the day began to also honor those who have died in all American wars. Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, under the Uniform Monday Holiday act. According to some this was simply to provide workers with a three day weekend. Some among various veteran groups feel this has helped to diminish the meaning and solemness of the day. The Veterans of Foreign Wars group stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
To help remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed by Congress in December of 2000 which asks all Americans "to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps' at 3 p.m. local time" on Memorial Day. We are asked to set aside one day out of the year to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their lives in service to their country.
While both honor our country's service members, the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is that Memorial Day is aimed at honoring service members that have died in service or as a result of injury while in service, while Veterans Day was specifically created to commemorate those service members who are still with us.
Click here to read some great quotes such as:
"Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men."
"And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier's tomb, and beauty weeps the brave."
"Perform, then, this one act of remembrance before this Day passes - Remember there is an army of defense and advance that never dies and never surrenders, but is increasingly recruited from the eternal sources of the American spirit and from the generations of American youth."
~W. J. Cameron