More Than Just a 3-Day Weekend: How Memorial Day Began
Each year on the last Monday in May, businesses throughout the country shut their doors, the U.S. Postal Service halts its mail delivery, and flags are raised in honor of Memorial Day. Most Americans know Memorial Day is a day on which we honor those who have died serving our country, but they don’t exactly know how the holiday started. In this post, we’ll clarify the origin story of Memorial Day as well as how it has evolved since then.
The Origin Legend
While it is unclear how Memorial Day was begun, during the 1860’s commemorations became widespread to memorialize the soldiers of the Civil War, taking on a new cultural significance. Some records show that one of the earliest commemorations occurred in May 1865 when free African-Americans in Charleston, SC, reburied former Union prisoners of war and held a ceremony dedicating the cemetery to them. While that day, and all the other dedications across the country, were meant to honor the men who gave their lives on the battlefield, in 1966, the Federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
How Memorial Day Began
In the spring of 1865, the Civil War finally ended after claiming more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history. To commemorate the lives lost in battle, Americans began holding tributes each spring during the late 1860s. They would decorate the graves of those who had died with flowers, leading to the day being referred to as Decoration Day.
General John A. Logan, leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans, designated May 30, 1868, as the first official Decoration Day with a strong speech on the importance of remembering those who had died defending the Union.
“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.
From Decoration Day to Memorial Day
From the original 1868 date, Decoration Day continued to be celebrated on May 30 for decades after its initial observance. It gradually became known as Memorial Day as years passed.
However, in 1968, 100 years after the original date, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This established Memorial Day’s official observance on the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971 and made Memorial Day as a federal holiday.
Memorial Day Traditions
Today on Memorial Day, Americans across the nation host parades, visit cemeteries and memorials, and wear a red poppy in honor of those fallen in war. But more can be done to remember those who have served and to support our veterans who are still with us.
If you’re looking for more ways to honor our veterans, we can help! At American Veterans Care Connection, we provide a variety of services to the men and women who have defended our nation. We offer home care services such as companionship, meal preparation, laundry, housekeeping, transportation, and more.
Interested in becoming a veteran home care provider? It’s easier than you think. We understand the Veterans Affairs system can be tough to navigate, which is why we’re here to help with our expertise and experience in home care resources for veterans.
THE HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY
As many people know, Memorial Day is an American holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May, and honors the men and women who sacrificed their lives while serving in the U.S. military. But how did this holiday originate? Continue reading to find out!
Did you know that the Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history? This required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.
In the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities began holding tributes to these countless fallen soldiers during the Spring and decorated their graves with flowers. Although it is unclear where exactly this tradition originated, some records indicate that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Despite this, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966.
Waterloo—which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
THE EVOLUTION OF DECORATION DAY
On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance.
“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.”
Logan declared this day as Decoration Day, and chose May 30th because it wasn’t the anniversary of any Civil War 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 Civil War soldiers buried there. Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Despite this, Southern states, continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.
THE CREATION OF MEMORIAL DAY
Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. This changed after World War I, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30th, the date General 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.
MEMORIAL DAY AT THE ASOM
We hope that you have a wonderful holiday, while also remembering the reason behind it. As a reminder, the ASOM is open on Memorial Day, May 31st- so be sure to come and see “The American Prisoner of War Experience” exhibit currently on display in the temporary gallery of the Museum!
When Is Memorial Day 2022
Many celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend with barbecues and family get-togethers, but Memorial Day is so much more than a chance to kick off the summer months. At its heart, Memorial Day is a day to solemnly honor all men and women who have died in U.S. military service. Read on to learn more about the true meaning of Memorial Day, as well as some interesting Memorial Day facts and Memorial Day history.
When is Memorial Day 2022?
This year, Memorial Day falls on May 30, 2022. Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day Meaning and Memorial Day History
Memorial Day commemorates all men and women who have died in U.S. military service. It’s not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of U.S. military veterans, or with Armed Forces Day, which honors men and women currently in service.
Memorial Day began a few years after the Civil War, in 1868. An organization of Union veterans established the holiday, then known as Decoration Day, as a time to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. From then until the present day, the solemn holiday has been formally observed at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which encourages Americans to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time to remember those who have died in service.
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion,” then-Congressman James Garfield said in an 1868 Decoration Day address at Arlington, which still captures the true meaning of Memorial Day today. “If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.”
Memorial Day Facts
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
The holiday began as a way to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War, but the day now honors all U.S. veterans who have sacrificed their lives.
There’s a specific way to display the American flag on Memorial Day, according to the U.S. Flag Code: hoist the flag quickly up to full staff at sunrise, then lower to half-staff until noon, and then return to the top of the staff.
Many veterans, as well as friends and family of veterans, make a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend.
In 1971, Memorial Day was established as a federal holiday taking place on the last Monday in May.
Poppies have become a symbol of Memorial Day because they are mentioned in a 1915 poem by Canadian soldier John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”
Many Americans mark Memorial Day with an official moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.
During the 3 p.m. moment of remembrance on Memorial Day, Amtrak conductors sound one long whistle in honor of those who have died in service.
Traditionally, American presidents give a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
New York was the first state to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday.
Some Southern states celebrate a Confederate Memorial Day, or Confederate Heroes Day, in late April, remembering the Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.
The first Indianapolis 500 race took place on Memorial Day in 1911.
The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated by then-Chief Justice William Taft on Memorial Day in 1922.