It is so much more than a three-day weekend, a reason for yet another sale, or even the unofficial kick-off to summer. Read on to find out why. The information below was gathered from the website www.usmemorialday.org.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
Regardless of the exact date or location, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
We cherish too, the poppy red that grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.
She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later, a Madame Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war-orphaned children and widowed women. The tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madame Guerin approached the VFW for help.
Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell poppies nationally. Two years later their “Buddy” poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the Us Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the national poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
Spend some quiet time this weekend in honor of those who gave their lives to ensure our freedom.