The history of Memorial Day
- Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
- The first Memorial Day was observed on 30 May 1868, with the placement of flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
- New Your was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873.
- All of the Northern States recognized Memorial Day by 1890 with the South refusing to acknowledge the day.
- The south chose to honor their dead on several different dates $until after World War I
- Following World War 1 Memorial day changed the focus from honoring just the lives lost fighting in the Civil War. After WW1 Memorial Day honored all Americans who died fighting in any war.
- Due to the desire to make Memorial Day a Federal 3-day holiday weekend in 1971 Congress passed the "National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363)" changing the holiday to the last Monday in May.
- Even today several southern states still consider separate dates to honor the Confederate war dead:
- Texas - January 19.
- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi - April 26
- South Carolina - May 10
- Louisiana and Tennessee - and June 3 which was Jefferson Davis' birthday.
I remember Memorial Day before 1971 as a day we paused and honored the lives lost to give us freedom. I remember Memorial day Parades, and events where veterans talked about and shared stories of the Men who died for My Freedom.
Since the change of observance of Memorial day has become another 3-day weekend people have forgotten the meaning observances have diminished over the years. Some Americans have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day and actually believe this is a day to remember any person who has died.
Many of our cemeteries and the graves of the fallen are ignored and neglected. It's difficult to find another person who actually knows or remembers the proper flag etiquette for the observance of Memorial Day. Some towns and cities still hold Memorial Day parades, but many which did in the past haven't held a parade in decades. Some towns and cities that tried to continue with the parades have stopped because too many Americans would rather go camping or shopping and people didn't show up.
There are but, a few exceptions to the lose of meaning of this day and few traditional observances:
- In the late 1950's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
- The Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day, in 1951.
- 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program). And,
- In 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
In December 200, congress passed the, "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution in an effort to bring meaning back to Memorial Day. This resolution asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans "Voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps."
Many of us believe that what may be needed to return the solemn, and even sacred, spirit back to Memorial Day is to restore the traditional day of observance As May 30th. I believe, as many others do, when Congress made the day into another 3-day holiday weekend, it made it too easy for
Americans to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. As the VFW stated in its 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 greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th instead of "the last Monday in May". On April 19, 1999 Representative Gibbons introduced the bill to the House (H.R. 1474). The bills were referred the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Government Reform. Sadly, there has been no further developments on the bill.
If you would like to see a return to the meaning of Memorial Day Please write your Representative and your Senators, and ask them to support these bills.
Or visit the Help Restore the Traditional Day of Observance page for more information on this issue, and for more ways you can help.