Memorial Day is a national patriotic holiday in the United States. It is a day set aside to remember and honor Americans who gave their lives for their country. Memorial Day was originally designated to honor the military personnel who died during the Civil War (1861-1865). It was later changed to honor all men and women who died in any war while fighting for the United States of America.
Memorial Day is sometimes called Decoration Day because it is a day to decorate or put flowers and flags on graves. I knew the day as Decoration Day long before I heard it called Memorial Day or understood its true purpose.
Memorial Day is a legal holiday in most states and is observed the last Monday in May by most Northern States and some Southern States. The last Monday in May was made a national holiday by a federal law, effective in 1971. Most of the Southern States also honor the Confederate dead on their own specified days. Mississippi chose the last Monday in April as Confederate Memorial Day. Alabama celebrates on the fourth Monday in April. Georgia designated April 26 to observe this holiday. North Carolina and South Carolina chose to celebrate the holiday on May 10. Virginia honors their dead on the last Monday in May. Louisiana celebrates on June 3. On that same day, Tennessee observes Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day on January 19.
Memorial Day is a day when people put flowers and flags on the graves of military personnel. Many organizations march in military parades and hold special programs. The reading of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is often included in Memorial Day programs. Memorial Day is often chosen as the day to dedicate memorials.
Military exercises and special programs are held at Gettysburg National Military Park and at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Some United States ports organize ceremonies where tiny ships filled with flowers are set afloat on the water to honor those who died at sea.
Memorial Day has also been known as Poppy Day since World War I ended. Small, red artificial poppies are sold by volunteers to help disabled veterans. The day has now become a day when many Americans choose to decorate their loved ones' graves.
Although several communities claim to have started Memorial Day, the United States government proclaimed in 1966 that it started in Waterloo, New York. The residents of Waterloo held their first observance of Memorial Day on May 5, 1866, in honor of soldiers killed in the Civil War. Businesses closed that day, and people decorated the graves of soldiers and flew their flags at half-mast.
May 30 was designated by Major General John A. Logan in 1868 as a day to remember Union soldiers and honor their graves. Logan held the position of commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union veterans of the Civil War. This organization had charge of Memorial Day celebrations for many years in the Northern States. Since World War I, the American Legion carries this duty.
Facts for this blog post came from an article by Sharron G. Uhler, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, pg 392.