Re­mem­ber his­tory of Me­mo­rial Day

The Kent Island Bay Times - - News -

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.

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