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MEMORIAL DAY FACTS AND HISTORY

Origin and History of Memorial Day

It is unknown where the first Memorial Day occurred (almost 25 different towns claim to have originated the holiday). This was complicated even further when President Lyndon Johnson publicly declared Waterloo, New York to be the official birthplace of Memorial Day.  This hotly disputed, however, all agree that it originated at about the time of the end of the Civil War (which ended in 1865).  At the end of the war, and after it ended, widowers, children and family members of the deceased would honor and remember the fallen solders (northern and southern) by decorating the graves of the departed.  The day became known as Decoration Day and continued to be celebrated in communities throughout the United States and was the beginnings of a day to remember the fallen solders. [Evidence of this first Memorial Day tradition can be found in sheet music published in 1867 for the song “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Bella L. Sweet.  The sheet contains a dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”]

 

In May of 1868, former Civil War hero, General John Alexander Logan, in his new capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (a social and political group comprised mostly of former veterans) proclaimed a General Order (see text below) that May 30th was to celebrated as Memorial Day to remember the Union and Confederate soldiers who have died during the civil war. This was the first “official” recognition of such a holiday. May 30th may have been selected because flowers would be blooming all around the country in order to pick and place on the soldier’s graves.  A large celebration was conducted that year at the Arlington National Cemetery and flowers were placed on the graves of the northern and southern soldiers. Another reason May 30th may have been chosen was due to the influence of French born Cassandra Oliver Moncure, the leader of the Virginia Women’s Auxillary, who spearheaded many “Decoration Day” activities.  She would have the Auxillary celebrate that day on May 30th because it coincided with the Day of Ashes in France (commemorating the return of Napoleon Bonaparte’s bones to Paris).


General Order No. 11

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

 

I. The 30th day 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. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By command of:
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief.

N. P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant-General.


 

Little by little, the holiday began to spread and in 1873, New York became the first state to hold an official Memorial Day and was recognized by all the former Union (northern) states within the next fifteen years. The former Confederate (southern) states began to celebrate their own fallen soldiers on separate dates on what has been known as Confederate Memorial Days (each state has its own date). Some of these states now celebrate a national Memorial Day, and a separate day for fallen Confederate soldiers.

 

Because of continuous military entanglements between the United States and other countries, this day of remembrance for the Civil War deceased began to expand as casualties of other wars and conflicts began to take place.  After World War I, most of the country began to celebrate May 30th as a national Memorial Day.  This holiday was officially made a national observance in 1971, when President Richard Nixon signed the National Holiday Act of 1971, which established the last Monday in May to be Memorial Day.

 

Dates of Memorial Day

2005: May 30
2006: May 29

2007: May 28
2008: May 26

2009: May 25
2010: May 31
 

Note: In 1999, A bill was discussed in Congress (S. 189 and H.R. 1474) to change the date of Memorial Day back to May 30th.  The supporters of the bill argue that by making Memorial Day the end of a three day weekend, people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, and only associate it with a long weekend to begin the summer.  The bills were sent to committee and there has been no recent activity for this proposal.

 

Memorial Day Customs and Traditions

The original custom of placing flowers on the graves of deceased solders continues today with thousands of families visiting the graves of lost loved ones and placing flowers.  American flags are also placed on their graves as well.

 

A custom of wearing red poppy flowers began in 1915, when Moina Michael, inspired by a poem, began selling poppies and then donating the money to needy servicemen and veterans [note: she was honored with her face on a postage stamp in 1948]. This custom began to grow, and a few years later (1920), a traveling French woman named Madam Guerin heard of the idea, and began to do the same in France and Belgium to help women and children suffering due to the loss of their fathers and husbands on the front lines. This eventually led to the creation of the Franco-American Children’s League.  Two years later, (1922), the organization disbanded and Guerin asked the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to help out. The VFW agreed and began to sell poppies in Europe and the United States.

 

Another more recent custom is observing a moment of silence at 3 PM on Memorial Day to remember the lives that were lost by all the men and women of the armed services in defense of our country and the freedoms we hold so dear. This custom has been supported by Congress and the President through the 2000 National Monument Remembrance Act.

 

Many towns and cities hold Memorial Day parades.  In fact, Washington D.C. has recently begun to hold a parade after almost six centuries since the previous one.

 

At Arlington National Cemetery, an American Flag is placed on the grave of each of the over 260,000 soldiers buried there and a wreath is placed at the grave of the Unknown Solder.  This custom has also been carried out in other military cemeteries and graveyards around the country by local groups and the Boys and Girl Scouts of America.

 

GIFT IDEAS FOR MEMORIAL DAY

When I think about Memorial Day, I think about the start of summer and food.  Memorial Day marks the start of the Summer season. Traditionally gifts are not exchanged, with the exception of food for the holiday's BBQs.  However, do not forget to remember all of those men and women who have served (and are currently serving) this country.  Even if you are not a religious person, spend a few moments of silence in their memory.

 

Going to a BBQ/Party: There are a few ideas for things to bring to Memorial Day BBQ.  A cheap way of bringing a platter of cookies is to buy a platter at a 99 cents store with a few packages of cookies from your local market.  You can also purchase a gift basket (see links below) to bring, but you need to order it early.  If the people at the group are drinkers, you can bring them a nice bottle of wine which is always welcome.  If the host knows that their guests are beer drinkers, they probably have the customary Budweiser or Miller - so bring something from a smaller company like a local microbrewery, or get something exotic.

 

Holding a BBQ/Party: Give yourself and everyone else a gift by providing great food.  Find the best butcher in your neighborhood and order their finest cuts of meat.  Also have the best assortment of drinks and side dishes for your guests.  If you do not have a good butcher near you, or do not know where to look, Omaha Steaks provides everything you need for a great BBQ.

 

Travel: If you want to take someone on a nice getaway for this long holiday weekend, I would suggest a trip to Washington, DC and the Arlington National Cemetery.  It would make a nice gift to your kids or for a veteran or for those that just enjoy history.

WEBSITES AND ARTICLES ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY

General Memorial Day Websites

Annie’s Memorial Day Page (AnniesHomepage.com): Information, links, poems and other facts relating to the Memorial Day celebration.

In Remeberance . . . Memorial Day (U.S. Army): History, information and message of the Joint Chief of Staff.

Memorial Day (CrystalLinks.com): Information about the Memorial Day holiday and its celebration with a Brooklyn flavor.

Memorial Day (FunMunch.com): Information on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day (HistoryChannel.com): History, facts, timeline and lots of other information on the Memorial Day holiday.

Memorial Day (NetGlimse.com): History, information, traditions, recipes, and more about Memorial Day

Memorial Day (TwilightBridge.com): Origin and information on Memorial Day and related subjects.

Memorial Day (Va. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs): Information, facts and events relating to the holiday celebration.

Memorial Day Origin (MemorialDayOrigin.com): Information and origin of the Memorial Day celebration in Petersburg, Virginia.

U.S. Memorial Day History and Information on U.S. War Memorials (USMemorialDay.org): Information and history of Memorial Day with information on U.S. War Memorials.

 

Memorial Day History, Origin and Facts

Celebrate! Holidays in the U.S.A. (US Embassy)

The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, NY (WaterlooNY.com)

History of Memorial Day (Va. Dept of Veteran’s Affairs)

The History of Memorial Day (HistoryChannel.com)

Memorial Day (InfoPlease.com)

Memorial Day (Patriotism.org)

Memorial Day (RootsWeb.com)

Memorial Day (Wikipedia.org)

Memorial Day – A Look at It’s History (Wilstar.com)

Memorial Day History (USMemorialDay.org)

Origins & History of Memorial Day (TwilightBridge.com)

The Origins of Memorial Day (NetGlimse.com)

The Origins of Memorial Day in the Unites States (U.S. Army)

 

Memorial Day Observance and Traditions

How to Observe Memorial Day (USMemorialDay.org)

Memorial Day Symbols & Things (AnniesHomepage.com)

Memorial Day Traditions (NetGlimse.com)

The Poppy Flower (Va. Dept of Veteran’s Affairs)

The Story of Taps (Va. Dept of Veteran’s Affairs)

 

Memorial Day Crafts and Activities

Memorial Day Activity Ideas (TwilightBridge.com)

Memorial Day Activities (USMemorialDay.org)

Memorial Day Crafts, Projects and Printouts (EnchantedLearning.com)

Memorial Day Funology (Holiday Funology

 

Memorial Day Stories & Poems

Memorial Day Writings, Poetry & Speeches (USMemorialDay.org) – links to various sources

Poems in Remembrance by various authors (TwilightBridge.com)

 

Teacher’s Resources for Memorial Day

Memorial Day – Holiday Lessons & Resources (Education-World.com)

Memorial Day Lesson Plans (Patriotism.org)

Memorial Day Theme Units (EdHelper.com)

Memorial Day Multimedia

Memorial Day Movies, Music and Wallpaper (USMemorialDay.org)

 

Memorial Day Ecards

Memorial Day (123Greetings.com)

Memorial Day E-Cards (USMemorialDay.org) – a list of ecard websites

Memorial Day (USMemorialDay.com)

 

Memorial Day Wallpaper

Memorial Day (Kate.net)

Memorial Day Wallpaper (TwilightBridge.com)

 

Memorial Day Screensavers

Memorial Day Screensavers (TwilightBridge.com)

 

Memorial Day Photos

Memorial Day Photos and Vintage Postcards (USMemorialDay.org)

 

Memorial Day Recipes

For Memorial Day, Try Turkey of Fish instead of Meat (Kate Lawson: Detroit News)

Memorial Day (DottisWeightLossZone.com) – low fat Memorial Day recipes

Memorial Day Entertaining (About.com)

Memorial Day Entertaining Advice (AllRecipes.com) – Recipes, grilling, etc.

Memorial Day Recipe Menu (StarChefs.com)

Memorial Day Recipes (NetGlimse.com)

Memorial Day Recipes (TwilightBridge.com)

Varnalisa’s Memorial Day Recipes (N/A)

 

Memorial Day Events

Celebrate Commemorate Memorial Day – Waterloo, NY (WaterlooNY.com)

 

Memorial Day Quotations

Memorial Day Quotes (Famous Quotes Network)

 

U.S. Wars

Memorial Day: History of Wars (Net Glimpse): Information, Time line and information on wars involving the U.S.

History of US Wars (CBEL.com ): Over 1000 links to information on US Wars throughout the web.

World History Timeline (WorldHistory.com): Timeline of wars involving the U.S., with links to information on each war.

America's Wars (History Central): History and information of U.S. Wars.  

 

Miscellaneous Websites about Memorial Day

Arlington Nat'l Cemetery (Official Site): Visitor information and scheduled ceremonies for this world known military cemetery.

General Order #11 (Va. Dept of Veteran’s Affairs)

Memorial Day Prayer (USMemorialDay.org)

Presidents Memorial Day Proclamation 2004 (Whitehouse.gov)

White House Commission on Remembrance (Remember.gov)

 

Memorial Day Links Pages

Memorial Day (NobleNet.org)

Memorial Day at the Davis Virtual Market (virtual-markets.net)

Memorial Day – May 30th (Holidays.bfn.org)

Memorial Day Related Links (USMemorialDay.org)

Memorial Day Resource Guide (N/A)

Salute to Veterans (KidsDomain.com) – kid friendly Memorial Day links

Veteran’s Day Memorial Day (VickiBlackwell.com)

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Last modified: March 20, 2012

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