History of Memorial Day

Read about how this holiday came into practice and the way it is observed.

Memorial Day History

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who have died in our nation's service.

There are several stories as to its actual origins, with over twenty four cities and towns claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that, before the end of the Civil War, organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves. A hymn was published in 1867 by Nella L. Sweet which carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead."

While Waterloo N.Y. was formally announced as the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in the month of May 1966, it's tough to affirm conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had several individual beginnings. Each of those towns and every spontaneous or planned assembling of people to honor those dead in the war in the 1860's, struck into the minds of the general human need to honor our dead. This contributed honorably to the increasing movement that culminated in Gen Logan passing his official statement in 1868. It does not matter who was the very first, what matters is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about disconnection. It is about coming together to honor those who gave their all, about reconciliation.

Memorial Day History

Memorial Day was officially announced by the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan on 5th May 1868 in his General Order No. 11. It was first observed when flowers were placed upon the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at the Arlington National Cemetery on 30th May 1868. New York was the prime state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. It was recognized by all of the northern states by 1890. The South refrained from acknowledging this day, honoring their dead on individual days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring simply those who perished fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any kind of war). It is, at present, celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday of May (National Holiday Act of 1971) to enable a three day weekend for Federal holidays, though many southern states have a supplementary day for honoring the Confederate war deceased. June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee, May 10 in South Carolina, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi and January 19 in Texas. Moina Michael in 1915, roused by the poem "In Flanders Fields," replied with her own poem.

She then envisaged of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day honoring the dead who served the nation during the war. She was the pioneer to wear one, and marketed poppies to her companions and co-workers, using the money to aid the servicemen in need. Soon after, Madam Guerin from France was sojourning the United States and heard of this new custom established by Ms. Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to increment money for the war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition soon propagated to other countries. The Franco-American Children's League marketed poppies nationally to help the war orphans of France and Belgium in 1921. The League dispersed a year later and Madam Guerin verged upon the VFW for help. The VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally market poppies proem to Memorial Day in 1922. Two years hence, their "Buddy" Poppy program was marketing artificial poppies engineered by handicapped veterans. Ms Michael was honored for her role in establishing the National Poppy movement, by the US Post Office, by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it in 1948.

Traditional adherence of Memorial Day has degraded over the years. Many Americans nowadays have omitted the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. The graves of the deceased are increasingly ignored and neglected it many cemeteries. Most people no longer adduce the proper flag etiquette for the day. Even though there are many towns and cities that still organize Memorial Day parades, most have not held a parade in decades. Some people assume the day is for honoring anyone deceased and not just those who fell in service to the country.

There are, however, a few noticeable exceptions. At Arlington National Cemetery, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place iconic American flags at each of the 260,000 gravestones. Then they patrol for 24 hours during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains intact and standing. The Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis started erecting flags on as much as 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery signifying an annual Good Turn in 1951, a practice that goes on to this day. Recently, starting from 1998, on the Saturday afore the official day for Memorial Day, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts erect a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of deceased soldiers buried at Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg National Military Park on Marye's Heights. Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years in 2004.

The National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed on Dec 2000 to make the Americans remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. The Moment of Remembrance is a tread in the suitable direction to returning the symbolic meaning back to the day. A full return to the original day of observance is required. People must set aside one day of every year for the nation to gather and remember, honor and reflect those who have given their all in service to their country.

By Kinjal Sen

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