Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day”, is a day of remembrance for people who have perished in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual early stages, with over two dozen metropolitan areas and towns laying claim to being the origin of Memorial Day. There is also proof that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves just before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead” (Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920).
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the origin of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s tough to confirm conclusively the source of the day. It is much more likely that it had many individual beginnings; each of those towns and every scheduled or spontaneous meeting of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s identified the common human need to honor our dead, each added honestly to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his formal proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is essential is that Memorial Day was established.
Memorial Day is not about dividing. It is about getting back together; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans these days have forgotten the significance and customs of Memorial Day.
Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye’s Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”
The Moment of Remembrance is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day. What is needed is a full return to the original day of observance. Set aside one day out of the year for the nation to get together to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to their country.