Three years after the end of the Civil War, on May 5th, 1868 the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
On May 30 of 1868, Five thousand participants laid flowers on the graves of more than 20,000 fallen Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery to acknowledge their ultimate sacrifice. Since World War I, Memorial Day has honored the lives and deaths of all American service people. In 1971, the last Monday in May was declared an official national holiday.
Today Memorial Day signals the unofficial beginning of summer, with a three-day weekend, backyard barbecues, and a big sale down at the Big Box stores. Often there’s a parade. Some would say that’s fine, that living free and well is the legacy of those who died in service of preserving that good life. But while we are flipping hamburgers and battling holiday traffic, let’s take a moment to remember why there is a Memorial Day and what it truly means, particularly to our living Veterans.
There’s a lot we can do to honor our fallen and living Veterans on Memorial Day. Consider the following gestures this coming day of remembrance:
- Spend some time with a Veteran, and be open to their story
- Visit a local cemetery and decorate service people’s graves with flowers, wreaths, or flags
- Fly the American flag at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day
- Wherever you are, participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at three o’clock local time