What is Memorial Day?
When you hear ‘Memorial Day’ what is the first thing that pops into your head? Vacation day? Three day weekend? Barbecue? But have you figured out what is Memorial Day… really?
Memorial Day, also called Decoration Day, is a day set aside to honor those who died in service to our country.
On May 5th, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared Decoration Day (Memorial Day) as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of those who died serving during the Civil War with flowers and should be observed on May 30th.
On May 30th, 1868, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. On that day, approximately 5,000 people attended the ceremony, about the same amount that attend the event today.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30th throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.
However, it was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. It was then changed so that it was always to be observed on the last Monday in May.
Poppies & Memorial Day
During WWI, John McCrae, a Canadian who enlisted to help the allies, wrote the poem “In Flanders Field”. The poem was published in Punch magazine and by 1918 the poem was well known throughout the allied world. Moina Michael, an American woman, wrote these lines in reply to his poem:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies
She then adopted the custom of wearing a red poppy in memory of the human sacrifices of war and also as a symbol of keeping the faith.
A French women, Madam Guerin, learned of the custom and started making artificial red poppies to sell them to raise money to benefit the women and children in war torn areas of France.
This tradition spread to Canada, The United States, and Australia and is still followed today.
The money collected from the sale of poppies goes to fund various veterans programs. In 1948 the U.S. Post Office honored Moina Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
National Moment of Remembrance
In December 2000, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” to ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten. The Act also created the White House Commission whose purpose is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States on Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
Will you pause at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who died in service to our nation?