American History: Memorial Day
In the United States of America, Memorial Day has been declared a federal holiday that is to be observed every year on the last Monday in May. Originally named Decoration Day this day of remembrance was introduced after the American Civil War to honor fallen Union soldiers. It wasn't until after World War I that this day was declared to be in remembrance of all U.S. soldiers that had lost their lives while serving in the U.S. military. On a side note the Memorial Day weekend unofficially marks the beginning of the summer vacation season.
General John Logan, leader of an organization of Union veterans known as the Grand Army of the Republic, officially declared on May 5, 1868 that Memorial Day was to be observed on the 30th day in May. By 1890 all of the northern states had begun to recognize and honor this day. It wasn't until after World War I when the government officially declared Memorial Day to be a day to honor all fallen servicemen that the southern states also recognized this date.
There is much debate over the exact location where the recognition and celebration of Memorial Day had first originated. In 1966 it was declared by Congress and then president Lyndon Johnson that Waterloo, New York was the original birthplace of the Memorial Day tradition. In 1971 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed moving the official observance date of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. This was done so that federal employees could partake in a three day weekend. It was at this time that Memorial Day was also officially recognized as a federal holiday. This Act was signed into law on June 28, 1968 but did not officially take effect until January 1, 1971.
Traditionally American and POW/MIA flags are flown in honor of those soldiers who lost their lives in service to our country. Several cities hold Memorial Day Parades out of respect for those that have given their lives for their country and freedom. Memorial Day was originally coined Decoration Day because of the many assemblages of flowers and decorative displays placed upon the headstones of those that had fallen during times of war in remembrance and tribute to the dead.
Around 1915 Miss Moina Belle Michael was an American teacher who became inspired by a war poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian Colonel John McCrae in regards to World War I. References to red poppies growing upon graves of the fallen inspired her to write her own poem in tribute. Through great efforts Miss Michael managed to convert the red poppy into a symbol of remembrance that is used to this day in recognition of all fallen soldiers of war. This sentiment has been extended internationally into other countries including Great Britain and Australia.
Many feel that the true meaning behind Memorial Day has been lost over the years. As a result, on December 28, 2000 the U.S. Congress passed an Act called The National Moment of Remembrance. The main purpose, as stated in the body of the act, is "to raise awareness of and respect for the national heritage, and to encourage citizens to dedicate themselves to the values and principles for which those heroes of the United States died." At 3pm (local time) on Memorial Day it is asked that every U.S. citizen pause for a moment in unity "to honor the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace."
Memorial Day History
Memorial Day – PBS.org
Memorial Day – History.com
Memorial Day – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
National Moment of Remembrance Act