Today is Memorial Day. For many Americans it is the unofficial start of summer, a 3 day weekend, huge sales at department stores and retail outlets for those not working, and for a select lucky few a day marked by parades and events. Unfortunately none of these events comes close to the true meaning, purpose, or symbolism of this day. As an American veteran and a stout political and current events blogger I feel it is my responsibility and duty to help Americans learn about the day’s significance and purpose and to help my international friends to learn about our nation’s holidays and history as it is supposed to be, not how it is currently observed.
The origins of the day are lost to history and controversy, just Google “Memorial Day origins” and you will find many different sources, some creditable and some not, offering fuzzy historical opinions about the day. The day has history and significance in both the Northern and Southern areas of the United States. While uncertain of who did it first, the practices and reasons behind them were the same. Due to the devastation the war caused to all Americans there were real steps taken to preserve their memory and sacrifices. At the same time every year Southerners laid flowers on graves and ensured the plots were well maintained as well as saying prayers. In 1865 a group of freed slaves reinterred a Confederate mass grave of Union soldiers in the Charleston South Carolina race track giving them each an individual plot within a fence and gate marking the site and returning the next year to place flowers on the graves. Despite who did it first, the day of remembrance was universal. Here are the facts:
- Memorial Day began as a way for Americans to honor the ultimate sacrifice many Union soldiers made during the War Between the States, 1861 to 1865. Southerners had their own days set aside
- Many communities across the nation, including the reconstructing South, made some form of observation to honor those fallen soldiers by placing flowers, clearing grave sites, singing hymns, etc (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi held observation on April 26th, when flowers were fresh)
- In 1868 the day was called Decoration Day by Major General John Logan, the founder of the Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans society), on May 5th designating May 30th as the day for the gravesite maintenance and flower placements to be done, President Ulysses S. Grant held observations at Arlington
- In 1873 New York was the first state to officially recognize the day, by 1890 all Northern states followed suit, Southern states continued their own observances of different days
- In 1882 the name of Memorial Day emerged
- After World War I, 1914 to 1918, Memorial Day was shifted to commemorate all fallen American soldiers, this was the first time the South fallowed the Union’s observance of this day
- In 1954 Congress officially changed the name to Memorial Day
- In 1966 President Linden B. Johnson declared the official origins of Memorial Day were in Waterloo, New York acknowledging Henry Welles’, John Murray’s, and John Logan’s efforts
- In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill shifting 3 holidays to Mondays, to take effect in 1971
- In 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance resolution passed setting 3 PM local time as a time to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by American service members to defending and protecting the nation
Now we are aware of the day and how it came to be a holiday. The reason for its being, the honoring of American soldiers sacrificing ones life for the country, has been lost of the years as parades and patriotic observations have fallen to travel, sales, barbeques, picnics, and times with friends and family. There are many who are trying to get the holiday back to its original day of May 30th as well as properly educating the public that the day is to honor those who laid down their lives for our great country. While veterans do have their own day to honor their time, efforts, and sacrifices, those who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve their own special day and we all are obligated to these sacrifices for the lives we have today. Thanking a veteran for their personal sacrifices is something we need to do each time we get a chance, they do so much and ask for nothing in return to preserve, protect, and defend our way of life. Traditional and necessary observations of this holiday include: Visiting the graves of fallen soldiers and decorating them with flags, flowers, and wreaths as well and ensuring they are well maintained and remembering the sacrifice this person made in ensuring our freedoms and rights:
- Flying flags at ½ mast from 8 AM to Noon
- The running of the Indianapolis 500 car race, since 1911
- Attending parades and public gatherings to remember the armed services and patriotic recitals
- Observing a moment of silence at 3 PM to remember the selfless acts of our soldiers and thanks them for our freedom and blessings they helped secure and maintain
Please be aware of this day, its history, significance, and symbolism. It is not ‘just another 3 day weekend’ or the beginning of summer or day to hang out and relax. No, today is a day to reflect on all that we Americans take for granted and those who laid their lives down so we could have it. Every freedom we have today was earned by the spilt blood of soldiers across the globe. Our patriotism, pride, and identity have fallen off since the 1990’s and we need to regain it now more then ever. According to the Depart of Defense war archives and others, from the Revolutionary War to the Bosnia we have lost 1,310,514 US soldiers in combat (not including the 482 Afghanistan or 3,975 Iraqi combat deaths currently as these are not over yet). source: American War Deaths Throughout History. Each and every one of these people deserves our deepest gratitude for their sacrifice. Of this total nearly half, 623,026 Americans lost their lives in the War Between the States, still our bloodiest and most costly war and one that touches nearly all of our ancestors in one way or another. It is this reason we need to take a break for our day off of work, for those who have a day off, and remember these people, honor their memory, and teach our children and their friends why this is a special day. The day off work is not to give us rest, but for us to honor our fallen heroes and show them the respect and admiration they earned with their lives. Visit a war memorial, fly a flag, read a famous passage about our brave soldiers sacrifices, and give a moments pause at 3 to remember and thank them because freedom is never free.
Only by connecting with our past can we understand why we are on the course we are on. Only by refreshing our patriotism and staying vigilant can we keep our country on this course. Only by understanding what we have, why we have it, why so many sacrificed their lives for it, and what responsibilities come with it can we ensure we will serve them, ourselves, and our children well. We have one of the longest operating national governments on the planet and this is no mistake or by any accident. For the past 232 years, since our Declaration of Independence, people have been willing to die for a free, just, and fair country. This day, Memorial Day, is their day. Remember them, honor them, thank them, and most importantly… pass this on to future generations so these lessons will never be lost or forgotten.