Memorial Day is Monday, May 27, 2013. Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
“Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Memorial Day was initiated after the Civil War. There are numerous accounts of people decorating graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, and several groups or towns have claimed to be the first to observe a memorial day.
The Birthplace of Memorial Day
On May 5, 1866, Waterloo, New York druggist, Henry C. Welles, and General John B. Murray are said to have organized the first village-wide day dedicated to honoring the Civil War dead.
One hundred years later, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
The First Decoration Day
General John A. Logan, head of an organization for Union Civil War veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic, is often credited with originating the idea of a national day to commemorate the Civil War dead by decorating their graves with flowers.
In 1868, events were held in 183 cemeteries across 27 states, with a large gathering at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Memorial Day Becomes a National Holiday
During the 20th century, Decoration Day became Memorial Day and was expanded to include all soldiers who have died in the service of the United States.
Although I did not locate the date Memorial Day became an “official” national holiday, presidential records seem to indicate it was consistently celebrated from the late 1860s.
- 1891 – President Benjamin Harrison took part in Decoration Day ceremonies at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA.
- 1906 – During his 6th annual message to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt urged Congress to appropriate funds to build an amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day observances.
- 1930 – President Hebert Hoover gave a Memorial Day address at Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania.
- 1951 – during a news conference, President Harry S. Truman reminded the public about the upcoming Memorial Day and said, “we all have a duty on that day to pray for permanent peace as well as honor the heroes of past wars”.
Memorial Day Moves to Monday
The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363) signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson became effective in 1971. This Bill changed Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day to fall on a Monday, and established Columbus Day as a federal holiday, also celebrated on a Monday.
Upon signing the Uniform Holiday Bill, President Johnson said, “The Bill that we sign today will help Americans to enjoy more fully the country that is their magnificent heritage. It will also aid the work of Government and bring new efficiency to our economy”.
National Moment of Remembrance Act
In 2000, Congress found “it is essential to remember and renew the legacy of Memorial Day…” To further this end, the National Moment of Remembrance Act (Public Law 106-579) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
As part of the Act, Americans are encouraged to pause at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day for a minute of silence.
The Meaning of Memorial Day
Apparently, the U.S. government realized in 2000 what some people had been thinking for years, that Americans had lost sight of the meaning of Memorial Day.
For fun, I entered “Memorial Day” in the search box of my web browser. A partial list of results is listed below (not in a specific order):
- Special travel deals
- Events (parades, ceremonies, concerts)
- Gas prices
- Major League Baseball camouflage shirts and hats (made in China)
- Sales for everything from soda to cars
- Expected car travel over Memorial Day weekend
- Weather forecasts
- Impact of budget cuts on Memorial Day activities
Whatever one’s beliefs, Memorial Day represents an opportunity to remember and honor the men and women who have died in the service of our country.
Make a point of skipping Memorial Day sales and do something in the true spirit of the day.
- Attend an event that focuses on honoring the people Memorial Day is meant to honor.
- Unearth the American flag in the back of your closet and display it.
- Visit a cemetery and place flowers on the grave of a soldier.
- While visiting with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day.
- Plant an olive tree.
Notice the olive branch, a symbol of peace, clutched in the talons of the American Eagle on the Great Seal of the United States of America.
- 4th of July – Be a Green Citizen
- 4th of July – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
- I am an American Citizen not just an American Consumer
- Lane Memorial Library – General John A. Logan’s Memorial Day Order
- Legal Information Institute – 36 U.S. Code 116: Memorial Day
- Military.com Spouse Buzz – Memorial Day: Remember all or Just Military?
- National Geographic – Memorial Day: How It’s Changed, Why Some Oppose 3-Day Weekend
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Memorial Day History
- U.S. Library of Congress – The First Official Memorial Day May 30, 1868
- Village of Waterloo, NY – The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, New York
- Wikipedia – Memorial Day