Memorial Day

Arlington Cemetery - will be decorated with flags and flowers

On Monday, we celebrate Memorial Day across the United States.  This got me wondering – when did Memorial Day begin?  Was it after the Revolutionary War? The Civil War? World War I or II?  Just when did people start remembering the men and women who served our country and died trying to preserve our country and the freedom we fought so badly for?  What I learned did not surprise me.
Yorktown cannon

Memorial Day actually started after the Civil War.  Families started remembering their fallen husbands and sons who fought in the war.  The amazing thing is – both sides – the Union and the Confederacy were placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. And yet, while both were doing it, they both did not celebrate Memorial Day together at first.  As a matter of fact, there are still states, that while they celebrate Memorial Day, they also have a separate day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers from their states on their own designated day.
soldiers' tents

General John Logan is credited with starting the first Memorial Day celebration.  He was the national commander of the GAR – the Grand Army of the Republic.  On May 5, he proclaimed in a general order (No. 11) that the first Memorial Day should be celebrated across the nation on May 30 in 1868.  At that time, flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  Many other states claim the rights to the first Memorial Day, but President Lyndon Johnson actually gave the city of Waterloo, New York the official status as the first city where Memorial Day was celebrated.  By 1890, all the Northern states were celebrating Memorial Day.  The South refused to acknowledge it, at first, because of the way the order was worded – claiming it honored only those who died fighting in the Civil War –(in a way snubbing the Southerners because they fought against the North).  Once the order was changed to honor all those who died fighting in ANY war, then the South began to acknowledge the holiday and celebrate it.  Like I said above, many states still have their own celebrations – January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi, May 10 in South Carolina, and June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.
Lafayette's cannon

What many people do not remember is – Memorial Day was supposed to be celebrated on May 30th each year.  But like many other things in our country, we tend to forget the origins and get so tied up in what is happening right now.  An act of Congress changed the holiday to be the last Monday in May in order to give workers a three day weekend.  When this happened, many people lost sight of the significance of the holiday.  Many started seeing it as the start of the summer.  Others forgot to fly flags.  Some people were just happy to have the day off.  Of course, retailers loved Memorial Day because they started having huge summer sales on this day.
American flag at Redoubt #9 - Yorktown

As a way to bring back the significance of the holiday, in 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance was passed.  This stated that at 3 pm on Memorial Day, everyone should stop what they are doing and observe a moment of silence – to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who died serving our country.  Senator Inouye has proposed we return the date to May 30 but nothing has been done about his resolution in over 13 years.
fife and drum corps

Tomorrow at 3 pm, I know what I will be doing.  Remember the sacrifices that were made.  Almost all of us have someone in our family – a father, brother, son, grandfather, sister, mother, daughter, or even grandmother who served in a war.  Perhaps it was an aunt or uncle.  It might have even been a relative long ago who placed their life on the line for the freedom of this country or others across the world.  Remember them.  I know I will.

Here is Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, which has stirred me ever since I first heard it after September 11th.  He actually wrote it in 1983 but it did not become popular until later.  George Bush used it during his campaign, and it was played during the Iraq war.  September 11th really brought it back before the public and I think on a day like Memorial Day, we need to read the words to see why we do love this country and why we fight for it year after year.

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I’d worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
With just my children and my wife.

I’d thank my lucky stars,
To be livin’ here today.
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
And they can’t take that away.

And I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died,
Who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
Next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

From the lakes of Minnesota,
To the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.

From Detroit down to Houston,
And New York to LA.
Well there’s pride in every American heart,
And it’s time we stand and say.

That I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
Who gave that right to me.

And I’d gladly stand up,
Next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

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