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What's Memorial Day All About? Posted 5.21.2015

I’ve been in Israel once during their Memorial Day.  It is quite an amazing experience.  A siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, which stops all traffic) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen and showing respect.

 

That’s a little different from life over here.

 

What do we do?  Have a BBQ.  Stay as far away from work as possible.  Play.  So why do we have Memorial Day?  Why is such a holiday needed?  Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance; a day when Americans went to cemeteries and placed flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It was a day to remember ancestors, family members, and loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

 

These days, way too many people “celebrate” the day without more than a casual thought to the purpose and meaning of the day. How do we honor the 1.8 million that gave their life for America since 1775? How do we thank them for their sacrifice?

 

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.

 

Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on May 5,1868, by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his Genera Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

 

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

 

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

 

Take a few moments this weekend and remember that it has taken 1.8 million lives to ensure the continued freedom we so enjoy.  They would have loved that BBQ, but gave it up for the grand experiment called America.


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