By Amy Miller, AFC®
As always, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May and honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Military. This year that day is May 30th.
Origination & History
Known as Decoration Day originally due to it being a time of decorating or “strewing” of flowers and flags on graves of the fallen, Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 – 154 years ago – by General John A Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers.
According to the Veterans Administration, 25 different places claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, but New York was the first state to officially designate it as a legal holiday in 1873. After New York, many others followed through the rest of the 1800s.
After WW1, it became an important occasion to honor those who died and was then more widely established as an official national holiday. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and proclaimed the last Monday of May as the official day of remembrance.
Traditional Memorial Day Observance
Each year many volunteers work to place an American flag on the graves of military personnel in cemeteries. Wearing a poppy in remembrance is also a tradition that originated during WW1 from a poem written by Lt. Colonel John McCrae with the Canadian Expeditionary Force that described fields of poppies growing among soldiers’ graves. It was later made popular in 1918 when a YWCA worker named Moina Michael attended a war secretaries conference wearing a poppy on her coat. She also passed out over two dozen to others in attendance, which inspired the National American Legion to adopt it as its official symbol of remembrance in 1920.
National Moment of Remembrance
I was not aware before but learned this week at a school event that 3:00 p.m. is set as the National Moment of Remembrance. In my research, I found that it originated after a May 2000 Gallup poll found that only 28% of Americans knew the true meaning of Memorial Day. It was then designated as a time to take a moment of silence and was put into law by Congress in December of that same year. I also learned that many organizations throughout the nation observe the moment. All major league baseball games halt, Amtrak trains blow their whistles, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty pause operations as do NASA and many others.
Today, many Americans observe the holiday by attending parades and hosting family cookouts as it also unofficially marks the beginning of summer. And although these are all fun (and I love a good time over a long weekend), I wanted to list a few other ideas and ways to remember this year that could bring the true purpose of the day back to the forefront. Here are a few of those ideas –
*Learn about (or visit) the Tomb of the Unknown Solider
*Visit a National Cemetery: https://www.cem.va.gov/find-cemetery/all-national.asp
*Learn a patriotic song or poem (maybe read the poem by Lt. Colonel John McCrae and create a poppy to wear (get the kids involved)
*Fly a Flag
Lastly, if possible, for one minute at 3 pm (your local time), be silent with your thoughts and maybe send a thank you or say a prayer for those men, women, and the families of those who have died serving our country.
During that first national commemoration in 1868, former Union General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where around 5000 individuals were in attendance. I will end by leaving you with a quote from his speech…….
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”