A Brief History of Memorial Day
Editorial by Keith Spencer
WASHINGTON DC – Memorial Day has evolved over its 150 year history, and today’s traditions honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice with parades, monuments, and special ceremonies. While some Americans will simply enjoy barbecues and time with their family, it’s our duty to honor those who defend our democratic values so valiantly, especially the 1.3 million military service members who have given their lives.
Memorial Day has its roots in the reconstruction era when Union veterans organizations began decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. Major General John A. Logan and the Grand Army of the Republic declared May 30, 1868 as Decoration Day with the first official observance of this holiday held at Arlington National Cemetery.
While this sounds like a simple explanation as to the origin of the holiday, numerous springtime memorial celebrations for the dead had already been held. From Mississippi to Georgia to Virginia and Pennsylvania, twenty-five cities north and south have claimed connections to the origins of Memorial Day following the end of the war.
Ultimately, Waterloo, New York was named the official birthplace of the holiday by President Johnson and the United States Congress. Officials believed their celebration held on May 5, 1866 to honor veterans was the first formal, community-wide, annual event that fell in line with modern traditions. In 1971, it was formally declared a national holiday, and has since been celebrated on the last Monday of May.
In 2000, Congress passed a law establishing a National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day when Americans are asked to spend a minute in silence at 3PM to honor those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live ours with dignity and freedom.
While many honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, some disregard the real meaning of this day. With 6,924 soldiers killed since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, it is our duty to remember these men and women and the millions before them. A simple gesture like a moment of silence is the very least we can do to honor the true spirit of Memorial Day.
Other facts about Memorial Day according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
- New York was the first to declare the observance a holiday.
- Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, & Virginia celebrate Confederate Memorial Day with varying days of observance.
- Decoration Day became Memorial Day in 1967.
- Logan initially wanted the holiday to be held annually on May 30, but the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved the observance to the last Monday in 1971.
- Arlington National Cemetery hosts an average of 28 funerals/day.
- Most municipalities fly flags at half staff until noon.
For a complete list of the number of United States military service member casualties, click here to get the facts from the Memorial Day Foundation.