MY POINT OF VIEW: The origin and history of Memorial Day

A close-up view of a tombstone at the Arlington National Cemetery, marking the grave site of four unknown crewmen assigned to the battleship USS MAINE (BB 2). The Marine sank after exploding off the coast of Havana, Cuba, killing approximately 260 crewmen. The sabotaging of the main precipatated the American declaration of war against Spain in 1898.

by Gary Kennedy

Originally this date in time was named Decoration Day. A day of remembrance of those who died in service to our country. It was originally commemorated on May 30, 1868. It was to show our respect to those who gave their lives in the Civil War. This proclamation was given by General John A. Logan, of the Grand Army of this Republic, an organization of Union sailors and soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington, DC.

During the first national event former Union General and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield was the primary speaker. There were 5,000 volunteers that opted to help decorate the final resting places of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. It was here that the recognition of the fallen was realized and addressed. Other observances followed suit, however, the events held by the freed slaves was for the Union troops for obvious reasons. These were held in and around Charleston, South Carolina, for the most part.

New York was the first state to make this a legal holiday and at this point in time the holiday was addressed as Memorial Day. This all occurred in 1873. By the late 1800s many states had adopted this holiday and made it a state holiday after World War I. The holiday was considered a holiday for all who fell in battle while serving their country. Eventually, in 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Act which designated Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday of May. That has held to this very day.

Many people, over time, have questioned what they consider the similarity between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. However, similar, they are very different. The intention of the Memorial Day holiday was/is to honor all service personnel who died during armed conflict. The Veterans Day holiday is to honor all veterans who have served our country with honor dead or alive.

In December 2000 the US Congress passed and signed into law, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act”. (P.L. 106-599), creating the thought of the people of the USA, the National Moment of Remembrance. This moment begins at 1:11 p.m., eastern time thus progressing one hour for each time zone. The thought here is for total silence for two minutes in remembrance and thanks. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. At this time it was officially placed in the last Monday in May for observance.

This is the time we see thousands of flags and beautiful flowers. For many this is a sad time, a time to mourn. For those who have lost no one it’s a time for respect and thankfulness for their sacrifice. It was also at this time that Colonel John McCrae wrote the beautiful poem, In Flanders Fields, which led to the Poppies of that battle field to become the holiday’s treasured flower. I won’t write that poem here as you can pull it up on your computer. Moina Michael, a YMCA worker, inspired wearing the poppy by adorning one and giving many others away.

There are several “Do’s and Don’ts” relating to Memorial Day that I should mention. 1) Don’t say “Happy Memorial Day”, you can express your gratitude to all men and women who have served and we are proud to honor them. 2) Don’t thank current troops; you should avoid saying, “Thank you for your service”. 3) Don’t let politics keep you from rendering respect; we have been defended for more than two centuries. 4) Don’t let business greed be part of who you are on this day. Memorial Day is prideful but on its face not a happy occasion. You can wear a memorial button from May 1 until Memorial Day. The not wearing of white was a southern thing mostly because of the heat. It really doesn’t apply anymore. Just be tasteful to the event you are attending. Like all three-day weekends from work enjoy your family and friends; a prayer for those who gave it all is respectful and appropriate and it should come from your heart. God bless and have a happy and safe weekend. I will talk to veterans next week.


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