Tag Archive | "Decoration Day"

Remembering the Original Meaning of Memorial Day

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After the Civil War, women in what was the Confederacy began a tradition – decorating the graves of the soldiers lost during the war.  This practice was later adopted in the North for those soldiers who had died defending the Union and was named Decoration Day.  It was subsequently renamed Memorial Day and a date established for its annual commemoration, May 30th.


Following World War I, America found many of its sons resting on foreign soil in American cemeteries that had to be maintained and managed.  In America, at Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established to commemorate those who were known only to God.


The American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC) was established by Congress in 1923 to commemorate the service achievements and sacrifices of the US Armed Forces.  Nearly all the cemeteries and memorials at that time specifically honored those who served in World War I.  Later, those who died in service to our country in World War II and future wars would be included among those memorialized.  The ABMC would ultimately come to manage and maintain 24 overseas military cemeteries and 25 memorials, monuments, and markers.


Today, Memorial Day is celebrated by many without consideration of its true meaning – a day set aside to honor and respect the people that gave us this day with their lives.  Through an act of Congress, Memorial Day has been adulterated into a three-day holiday replete with barbecues to kick off the advent of summer and shopping mania spawned by the innumerable sales on items ranging from automobiles to mattresses in commemoration of the almighty dollar.  Once a day of solemn remembrance, Memorial Day now has to compete with the monetary madness that drives the wheels of industry.  In an attempt to preserve the true meaning of the holiday, many veterans organizations choose to observe Memorial Day a week prior to May 30th to retain the honor and respect for America’s heroes.


Sometimes, I wonder what America will be like in the future.  Special days set aside to honor God and country are being renamed and debased by people that want to replace the uniquely American way of life with their own agenda and control your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in what was once the land of the free and the home of the brave.


As you watch the video below, consider the sacrifice of the many soldiers whose resting places are depicted in its images and vow to join with those who would restore the true meaning of Memorial Day.




Memorial Day Today

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The commemoration of Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War when Southern women set aside a day to decorate the graves of fallen Confederate Soldiers.  Christened “Decoration Day,” the solemn service was adopted by the Federal government after the Civil War and subsequently renamed “Memorial Day.”


With its origins in the American Civil War, a bitter, bloody conflict fought over the legitimacy of slavery and impingement of the rights of the individual states by a growing federalism, Memorial Day has become a remembrance of those fallen in all of America’s declared and undeclared wars.  It was and is a day to honor those who paid the ultimate price in safeguarding and building the greatest nation in the history of the world.


Although Memorial Day remains a holiday on our calendar and a day anticipated and celebrated by most Americans, its true meaning and significance is largely overlooked.  While official ceremonies are conducted in our nation’s capital and in communities nationwide, the vast majority of our citizens view the holiday as nothing more than a long weekend, a day off from work, the kickoff to the Summer Season, or all of the above.

And, big business has seized upon the day to peddle their wares with yet another in their interminable “sales” as enticements to get consumers to part with their money.  Of course, there is nothing inherently inappropriate in people enjoying a holiday or using their weekend or day off for their own purposes.  Yet, the obliviousness of the average person to the historical significance of a day to honor our fallen heroes is yet another indication of a pervasive societal decay.

When we fail to give more than passing consideration to the meaning and purpose of Memorial Day and other days set aside to honor God and Country, we demonstrate just how far our nation has devolved from that “shining city on a hill” – the beacon that has given hope to the world’s oppressed and downtrodden for more than 200 years.  In a society filled with egocentric individuals, money has become “God.”

We no longer “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”  It is no surprise then that the concept of shared sacrifice is anathema to most members of such a society and that the sacrifice of those who have given their lives for their country and fellow men can be so easily ignored.



In Memory of Memorial Day

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Because many towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, the exact origin of this holiday remains vague.  Originally named Decoration Day, we do know that Memorial Day has Southern roots.  It began when groups of Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers during and after the Civil War.  “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” a hymn published in 1867 by Nella L. Sweet, was sung during the commemorative ceremonies.  However, Decoration Day was neither recognized nor treated as a special day.

In the wake of the Civil War, a great rift continued to exist between the North and South, as did the need to honor the fallen soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Reconciliation between the two sides was critical to our national healing process.

General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, began that process.  On May 5, 1868 Logan announced the establishment of Memorial Day.  On May 30th of that year, the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated, for the first time, at Arlington Cemetery.

The State of New York officially recognized the holiday in 1873; by 1890, the other Northern States had embraced it.  The South, however, continued to observe a separate day.  After World War I, Memorial Day assumed a broader meaning.  Proclaimed a national holiday, its intent was to honor the fallen soldiers of all wars.

In 1915, Moina Michael, who was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field,” penned her own paean to our troops:

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.


Moina sold poppy flowers to benefit our servicemen in need.  Her devotion, coupled with her poem, gave birth to the practice of wearing poppies in our lapels in observance of Memorial Day.

A French woman named Madam Guerin then copied this practice as a means of generating funds for the Franco-American Children’s League, which supported orphans in France and Belgium.  A year later, when  the League disbanded, Madam Guerin reached out to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for assistance.  Thus, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell Buddy Poppies made by disabled veterans nationwide.  In 1948, the United States Postal Service honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy Movement with a three-cent stamp bearing her likeness.

Over the years, America has drifted away from traditional customs, and Memorial Day is one such casualty.  Ironically, it was our government that initiated the loss of Memorial Day as a way of honoring the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.

In 1971, Congress enacted P.L. 90-363, which stated that Memorial Day would henceforth be celebrated on the last Monday in May, in order to ensure a three-day holiday weekend.   It also guaranteed that businesses would rake in extra cash by hosting Memorial Day blowout sales.  The VFW and other veteran groups responded to P.L. 90-363 by telling our legislators that changing the date simply to accommodate a three-day holiday weekend would undermine the very meaning of the day.  Congress’ act has contributed directly to the public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced a bill to the Senate (S-189) in order to return Memorial Day to its original date of May 30th.  Exactly three months later, Representative Gibbons introduced virtually the same bill, H.R. 1474, to the House.   Both bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Government Reform.  To date, the bills are still languishing.   I guess they’re not good for business.

In December 2000, in an effort to restore public awareness, President Clinton issued a directive to have a voluntary moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day.

Despite these efforts, Congress sought to hijack yet another day of observance when it attempted to convert Veterans Day to a three-day holiday weekend.  Met with stiff opposition by veterans’ groups, the attempt did not succeed.

American traditions are constantly challenged for the sake of the Almighty Buck.  If our days of observance vanish completely, it will be because our lawmakers failed to understand that Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless.

The History and Meaning of Memorial Day

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Although justified in the name of human rights, our nation’s Civil War tore entire families asunder and left many casualties.   In order to help our country begin to heal from its self-inflicted wounds, many communities across the country set aside a day to honor those who had fallen in the Civil War.  Aptly named Decoration Day, it mirrored the practice of decorating the graves of the fallen with flowers and flags.

The first observance of Decoration Day occurred on May 5th, 1866 at Waterloo, New York.  Two prominent generals – General John Murray, who was a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of a veteran’s organization known as The Grand Army of the Republic –present that day determined that they would expand the holiday to encompass families and their departed loved ones nationwide.  Thus positioned to claim the attention of the public, these military leaders proclaimed that Decoration Day be observed nationwide.  A few short weeks later, on May 30th of the same year, it was.  The date of May 30th may very well have been arbitrary, as it was not associated with any Civil War battle.

Many Southern States refused to observe the holiday, due to the hostility that lingered in the air long after the last shot of the war was fired.  In order to gain the South’s consensus, the name Decoration Day, which was so closely associated with the Civil War, became known as Memorial Day.  The name was first unveiled in 1882, but it did not become official until June 28, 1968!

On that day, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Bill, a piece of legislation that moved traditional dates of observance to specified Mondays, so as to create three-day holiday weekends.  The holidays so chosen were George Washington’s Birthday (later known as Presidents Day, when it was combined to simultaneously honor Abraham Lincoln), Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day.  However, as many veteran organizations did not wish to comply with the bill, Veteran’s Day was ultimately restored to its original date of November 11th.

As a result of this creation of long holiday weekends, most corporate businesses no longer close on Veteran’s day, Columbus Day, President’s Day, or the day after Thanksgiving, because it’s good for business!  By moving Memorial Day, in 1971, from its traditional May 30th to the last Monday in May, our lawmakers either wittingly or unwittingly created the three-day weekend that has come a long way from honoring our fallen heroes.  Instead of decorating graves, throngs flock to our oceans, rivers, and lakes to jump into the drink and patronize all manners of vendors, who profit.  Larger profits = more taxes, so I suppose the government had this planned all along as a money maker, rather than a way to give hard working taxpayers a long weekend.

More than two centuries have passed from America’s courageous and tenacious inception in 1776.  But at every step in our evolution, we have paid the price of freedom.  As the pages in our history have turned past the Civil War to the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, and the Iraqi and Afghan wars, those pages were marked by a long trail of American blood.  That blood is still being shed for the freedoms that many of us now take for granted.

A wise man once said, “Sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless” and “A promise made is a debt unpaid.”  As a nation, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have served and who continue to serve and protect us.  These include our fallen heroes as well as our armed forces, both in action and on peacekeeping missions, and all of the police, fire, and rescue departments stretching from sea to shining sea.  Honoring Memorial Day is actually a way to honor them.

You can start the day by displaying the American flag prominently outside your home or place of business, and by wearing it, gentlemen, on your lapel and ladies, as a pin.  You may also be moved to attend one of the many local services honoring our soldiers.  Or, you can simply take a moment from your happy holiday of Memorial Day, whether you are at home or on a beach or at a family gathering, especially one that includes children.  You can be the one to announce, “Will everyone stop what you are doing for a moment of silence, while we offer up a prayer to honor those who gave us this day by protecting our freedoms.”  You can end the remembrance with, “God Bless America.”  Thus, you will have paid your debt, as well as your respect to those who mightily deserve it. 

The Last Monday in May

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For many Americans, Memorial Day is celebrated as the unofficial beginning of the summer season.  For others, it has a much deeper meaning and is not celebrated so much as commemorated


At the conclusion of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln instituted Decoration Day to honor the Union soldiers who had died during the conflict.  Over the next several years, many communities in both the North and the South designated days to honor their Civil War dead.


In 1868, General John A. Logan, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ organization, issued a proclamation that Decoration Day be observed nationwide.  In 1882, the alternate name, Memorial Day, was first used, although the designation was not commonly used until after World War II and did not become the official name of the holiday until 1967.  Although traditionally observed on May 30th, the Memorial Day holiday was changed to the last Monday in May by Congress in 1968.


Each year across America and other parts of the world, Americans who paid the supreme sacrifice are honored by a grateful nation.  Many Americans display the flag of our country in the towns and cities across the land.  American flags and wreaths are placed at the gravesites of fallen heroes in Arlington National Cemetery and cemeteries across the United States and other places in the world.


The mournful sound of “Taps” echoes around the world,


Day is done,
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills,


From the sky
All is well,
Safely rest
God is nigh


Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky,


Gleaning bright
From afar,
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.


Thanks and praise,
For our days
Neath the sun.
Neath the stars.


Neath the sky.
As we go,
Then we know,
God is nigh.


As the bugle calls die amongst the echoes, many of us who wore the uniform defending our country pause to remember our fallen comrades and relive a time in our lives when we were a part of history.  Still others, friends and family of those who died in our nation’s service – whether that service had been in Europe, Asia, North Africa, or the Middle East – remember their loved ones and the sacrifices they made to preserve freedom and our way of life.

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