It seems that the traditional observances of Memorial Day have faded over the years. It is unfortunate that many of us have forgotten the history of Memorial Day. From decorating grave sites…to standing along flag strewn streets as marching bands and the Color Guard pass by…to proudly wearing a red poppy…to taking a simple moment of silence to honor all those amazing men and women who have selflessly given their time, service and lives so that we may have a Memorial Day to freely celebrate.
I too have lost sight of the incredible weight that this day carries. As I look back through pictures of this past weekend with my family and friends, I am struck by one particular image. I stood at the base of an old light house, straining to see my sister and nephew looking back at me. I didn’t catch their image in the camera’s lens…but I was blessed to have captured a beautiful picture to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day.
The photo prompted me to take a deeper look at the history of Memorial Day. It is my pleasure to share a few highlights with you…
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a special day of remembrance for all those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the true birthplace of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th 1868 by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30th 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War, as early as 1862.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the historic day. Instead they chose to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. At this time the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war.
It is not important who was the very first to celebrate the day...or even where. What is important is that Memorial Day was in fact established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation...it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.