With May upon us most of us are looking forward to enjoying a long weekend at the end of the month. Many localities will have parades, there will be family gatherings and many folks will be enjoying outings and barbecues.
It is easy to confuse the purpose of Memorial Day and Veterans Day; Memorial Day pays homage to those Americans that died serving the Nation, while Veterans Day pays tribute to all that honorably served in the US Armed Forces.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day; Decoration Day started as a series of local events where flowers and flags were placed at the graves of Civil War veterans. James Collum points out in a recent article that the first known Decoration Day was in Columbus, Mississippi on April 25, 1866. The good people of Columbus decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers. In the North, the first Decoration Day took place in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866.
In 1868, General John Logan was the Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s organization; General Logan authorized the first official Decoration Day. On May 30, 1868 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated at Arlington National Cemetery. In subsequent years most Southern States were reluctant to participate in a National Memorial Day because they felt it was a Union Holiday. After World War I, the holiday was extended to honor Americans from all wars that had made the supreme sacrifice.
Many Americans have lost sight of why we commemorate the day. On May 2, 2000 President Clinton called for a “National Moment of Remembrance”. The President suggested that Americans take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day. The President stated in his press release:
“As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.”
I am confident that those gallant men and women who gave their lives for the Nation would want us to enjoy the barbecues, picnics and other leisure activities. We have an obligation to take a few moments to honor their memory and reflect on the sacrifices they made.
James Collum. “Mississippi CAN BRAG on PROUD POINTS and PATENTS #3”
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary May 2, 2000
“Memorandum on the White House Program for the National Moment
Photo: Arlington Cemetery – Courtesy of sxc.hu