Originally known as Decoration Day, the Memorial Day holiday first commemorated the deaths of soldiers from the American Civil War. Flowers or wreaths were placed on the graves, followed by singing, sermons and then a picnic. First celebrated in Waterloo, NY on May 5, 1866, the holiday gained national prominence as a result of the friendship between General John Murray of Waterloo and General John Logan, Commander in Chief of one of the earliest veteran's organizations, the Grand Army of the Republic. On May 5, 1868 Logan proclaimed May 30 Decoration Day...to be celebrated annually in honor of those who made the supreme sacrifice.
The name Memorial Day came into use in 1882, but it wasn't until after WWII that it gained widespread acceptance. In 1967, federal law officially amended the name to Memorial Day. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill established a series of three day weekend holidays and Memorial Day was officially designated as the last Monday in May. Many people feel that the rotating date and three day weekend status has cheapened the holiday. There is currently a push among veterans' groups to have Memorial Day restored to a single day event, celebrated on the traditional May 30th date.
Tradition has the American flag flown at half-staff from dawn until noon. During this time many communities and veterans' groups hold parades and ceremonial wreath layings, followed by the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute. At 3 p.m. local time, a national moment of remembrance is held. Many veterans wear a poppy on Memorial Day in honor of the WWI veterans commemorated in the John McCrae poem "In Flanders Fields"
In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Enjoy your start of summer picnics, family gatherings and social happenings...enjoy the traditional Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600, baseball games and other sporting events. Just don't forget to take time out of your busy schedule remember the real reason why you are celebrating the day. You might not be able to attend a tribute at one of our many National Cemeteries, you might not even be able to attend a local memorial ceremony, but please take a moment to remember those who gave their all to protect our rights and freedoms.