Thoughts On Memorial Day
Though many states claim to be the birthplace of a Memorial Day observance, the first official Memorial Day, called Decoration Day, was established by Major General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of The Republic, three years after the Civil War ended. He declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. He chose this date because no significant battle had occurred on that date, and because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
That first large official observance was held May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery on the mourning-draped veranda of Arlington Mansion, once the home of General Robert E. Lee. General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other dignitaries presided. Children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home paraded through the cemetery strewing flowers on Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns. There were 5,000 people in attendance, approximately the same size crowd as current observances.
By the end of the 19th century, Decoration Day ceremonies were held on May 30 in towns throughout the nation. State legislatures ..........
In 1918 Moina Michael, a YWCA worker, created a silk poppy and pinned it to her coat and distributed two dozen to others at a conference. This was in reference to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in Flanders. In 1920 the National American Legion adopted her poppy as their official symbol of remembrance and distributed paper lapel poppies across the nation, which became a tradition on Decoration Day. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who had died in all American wars.
In 1967, the name was officially changed to Memorial Day. Congress declared it a national holiday in1971. At that time it was placed on the last Monday in May along with some other federal holidays, to create three-day weekends.
In 1987, Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. He continued introducing it until his death in 2012.
In December 2000, the U. S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act.” This act encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
Traditionally, on Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
My thought is the same as Senator Inouye’s. By making it part of a three-day holiday it has become not a day of remembrance of the veterans but a day off work, an excuse for a sale, the first picnic and boat day of the summer, travel, and an occasion for a sunburn. How many of our young people even know what the purpose of the day is, other than a day of play for them?
I remember as a child wearing the paper poppies that the VFW ladies brought to our school and we paid maybe a nickel for the honor of wearing one. I remember bringing flowers to the bridge on Main Street to watch the parade and when the National Guard passed the bridge we dropped the flowers into the river to say thank you to the sailors. The band stopped on the bridge and played Taps as the flowers floated through our county. My dad marched in the National Guard unit for many years following his discharge. I also had older cousins and uncles who were in the parade. The parade ended at the cemetery, where the rest of our flowers said thank you to the soldiers. I remember Taps and flags and men in uniform saluting. We kids were on our honor to be quiet and respectful listening to the boring politicians. It was what we did.
On Saturday, I’ll be at Arlington National Cemetery with my dad and 79 other WWII veterans from Michigan on our Talons Out Honor Flight to the World War II Monument. The cemetery will probably still have all the flags placed for Memorial Day. My Dad, whose 91st birthday is this week, will salute. I’ll be quiet and respectful. It’s what I was taught to do.