Remember history of Memorial Day
Like many of our holidays, Memorial Day has been co-opted by marketers, losing much of its history and importance in the process. What began as a day to memorialize those killed in battle has become the unofficial start of summer top many of us.
And that’s OK. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed. They are meant to be a break from the daily grind. But it would be shame not to take the opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of the day.
The beginnings of Memorial Day stretch back to the years immediately following the Civil War, when, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a number of localities held ceremonies honoring those who died in the conflict.
“Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866,” the VA website states.
The first large observance of what would become Memorial Day was held as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. It was organized by the head of the Grand Army of the Republic. Future president Ulysses S. Grant was one of those presiding over the ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery. “It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country,” the VA states.
According to the VA, the crowd size at Arlington’s annual Memorial Day ceremony has remained about the same since it was first held in 1868 with 5,000 attendees. “Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today,” the VA states.
Memorial Day remained a day of tribute for those killed in the Civil War until after World War I. The scope was then expanded to include anyone killed in an American war, according to the VA. It became a national holiday in 1971.
Recognizing that the importance of Memorial Day was being lost, Congress the National Moment of Remembrance Act in 2000. It calls on Americans to take a moment of silence at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day — no matter where they are or what they might be doing — to reflect on those who died in service to the country.
Veterans advocate Carmella LaSpada was reportedly inspired to establish the Moment of Remembrance after speaking to a group of children visiting Washington, D.C. in 1996. “And I said, you know, Memorial Day’s next Monday, and I said, do you know what the meaning of Memorial Day is, what it’s all about? And that they all looked at each other, and in unison, they said, ‘Oh, that’s the day the swimming pools open,’” she told NPR.
While enjoying the long Memorial Day weekend, going to a local pool that just opened or barbecuing with friends and family in the backyard, take a moment to reflect on Memorial Day and the important sacrifice made by those who gave their lives for our country.