Those Who Serve America

Black Navy Officers (1944)

According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (in 2008 on May 26). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action

Traditional observance

Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. US Eastern time. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers usually place an American flag upon each grave site located in a National Cemetery.

In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also used as a time for picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events.

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One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. Some Americans also view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season. The national “Click It or Ticket” campaign ramps up beginning Memorial Day weekend, noting the beginning of the most dangerous season for auto accidents and other safety related incidents. The U.S. Air Force‘s “101 Critical Days of Summer” begin on this day as well. Many Americans use Memorial Day to also honor any family members who have died, not just servicemen.

Flags flying at Fort Logan National Cemetery during Memorial Day 2006.

Flags flying at Fort Logan National Cemetery during Memorial Day 2006.

Memorial Day formerly occurred on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), advocate returning to this fixed date, although the significance of the date is tenuous. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”[1] Hawaii‘s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day since 1987.

History

On May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Waterloo, New York as the Birthplace of Memorial Day. http://www1.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp#hist http://www.waterloony.com/MemDay.html

Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.

Color guard of Negro engineers, Ft. Belvoir(?), [Va.] (LOC)

↑Color Guard of Negro Engineers, Ft. Belvoir(?), VA

Freed Slaves Celebrated The First Memorial Day

The first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. The freed slaves reinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to individual graves, fenced in the graveyard & built an entry arch declaring it a Union graveyard; a very daring thing to do in the South shortly after North’s victory. On May 30 1868 the freed slaves returned to the graveyard with flowers they’d picked from the countryside & decorated the individual gravesites, thereby creating the 1st Decoration Day. A parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic marking the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days. Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army and also because there were very few veterans of the Union Army who lived in the South. A notable exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866 at its Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.[1].

The alternative name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967 . On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend and for the first time recognized Columbus Day as a federal holiday. The holidays included Washington‘s Birthday (which evolved into Presidents’ Day), Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971 . After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply at the state level, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years, although Veterans Day was eventually changed back to its traditional date. Ironically, most corporate businesses no longer close on Columbus Day or Veterans Day, and an increasing number are staying open on President’s Day as well. Memorial Day, however, has endured as one holiday during which most businesses stay closed because it marks the beginning of the “summer vacation season,” as does neighboring Canada‘s Victoria Day, which occurs just before, on the third Monday in May.

As we celebrate this Memorial Day, Let all of American stand and proudly proclaim that we have each played a part in making America the great country that it is. From the beginning each color, race, creed, religion, culture, state, class, and faith have come together to make up this great melting pot we all call home. As we look back on the Memorial Day we just celebrated let us all be proud and pause in a moment of silence…

↑Crispus Attucks – First Patriot killed in the Boston Massacre on March 6, 1770

Painting by Hershel Levit

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