Saturday, May 23, 2009

Let's Not Forget

To many people, Monday is just part of another three-day weekend and the beginning of summer with most schools officially being out. To others, it means much more. To those people, along with countless veteran's of our great nation, Memorial Day is an important reminder of those who died while protecting our freedom.

Many people don't know the exact origins of Memorial Day, myself included, so I decided to look into it. I know we celebrate our fallen soldiers, but wanted to know when it started, how, and why. Here's what I found...

"Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 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 date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns." (US Department of Veteran Affairs)

In researching, I did find there is some controversy as to the actual first Memorial Day celebration, as well as the birthplace of the holiday. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., on April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well. Macon, GA; Columbus, GA; Richmond, VA; Boalsburg, PA; and Carbondale, IL are among the 25 cities that claim to be birthplaces of the holiday.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, The National Moment of Remembrance Act was signed into law, to encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity. The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

So, whether you are at the beach, at work, at home, or at The McWane Center (where we will be with some OI friends), please remember what this holiday is all about and remember to observe a minute of silence at 3pm. Thanks to all our service men and women who have served us in the past and continue to fight for this great nation!!

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