I hear people say Happy Memorial Day here in the US, and I kind of get why. For many, Memorial Day is a day off work to hang out with friends, maybe have a barbeque (hopefully with vaccines, masks and social distancing), and that in itself is important. For many, it is the unofficial kick-off of summer. Memorial Day is about remembrance and thanks. That is not exactly a happy occasion. The holiday originated in the US unofficially in 1865 following the end of the Civil War. An estimated 620,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War. People got together to memorialize those lost in that bloody war. Towns would get together and decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers and say prayers. Some of the first organized days of remembrance were organized by recently freed slaves who had joined the Northern Army.
The town of Waterloo, New York held a day of remembrance on May 5th each year. The town hosted a ceremony every year, beginning in 1866, and after 100 years of continuing the tradition, Congress declared that Waterloo was the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Another day that helped give rise to the modern Memorial Day was Decoration Day, set on May 30th because it did not fall on the anniversary of any major Civil War battle. This day was started in 1868 by John Logan who was the head of an organization aiding veterans of the Northern Army. Decoration day was declared to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. On the first Decoration Day, President James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate that day. Almost all Northern States adopted some form of Decoration Day and the Southern States sort of adopted their own versions of the holiday that did not coincide with the the Northern States.
While Decoration day started off as a day to commemorate those lost in the Civil War, as successive wars came along, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and both Iraq and Middle Eastern conflicts were all rolled into the Memorial Day- a day of remembrance for the sacrifice of military personnel that sacrificed themselves for the safety and security of American and the freedoms and ideals it represents. Memorial Day was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
Two more lesser known facts (you know we love our trivia, and patriotic trivia is even better): there is a national moment of silence to honor those soldiers who have died at 3:00 p.m. (local time) each Memorial Day, and the official flower symbol for Memorial Day is a red poppy, based on a poem written by a Georgia school teacher, Moina Michael, to honor Memorial Day.
However you celebrate Memorial Day, take some time to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for this country. Regardless of how you feel about the American military, the soldiers who are out there risk their lives for their country, and some pay the ultimate price to defend freedom and democracy. There are so many stories of courage and sacrifice out there and we will bring some of those stories to you. Honor those who have died in the name of freedom.
It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.General Norman Schwarzkopf