Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service for the United States. It is celebrated every year on the last Monday in May, this year falling on May 27th.
The history of Memorial Day is pretty interesting. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day, but they are different in that Veterans Day celebrates the service of all veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives for their country.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Interestingly, in the years following the Civil War, the North and the South observed different Decoration Days to honor their war dead.
Some scholars attribute the beginning of Decoration Day/Memorial Day to southern ladies who laid flowers on the graves of the Civil War dead. Decoration Days continue to be very popular in the South, honoring not only veterans, but all loved ones.
The history of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance began with a song. In 1915, following the Second Battle of Ypres in World War I, Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The song’s opening lines refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in Flanders, Belgium. The American Legion adopted the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance in 1920.
An interesting fact that many don’t know: in 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember those who gave their lives for their country at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day. Although many think about and honor those who gave their lives in many ways and on different days, Memorial Day is a day for us all to come together to remember and honor the courageous men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and all those who call it home.