On May 5, 1862, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. 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. Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Many Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I.
Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
I have had the privilege of being at Andersonville, Barancus National Cemetery, Arlington, and many others and have seen tiny flags flying in front of the rows and rows of white marble stones bearing the names of men and women who gave their lives so I could be free. While in Washington, D.C. a few years ago I had the privilege to visit the WWII monument, the Korean wall, the Vietnam wall, and Arlington. My friend, Marian, told me about her father who had died in Korea as we stood facing the wall.... I cannot begin to explain the emotions that rushed through me as I looked into the faces of the men/women who died in Korea.....and then turned to see them standing behind me. Marian and I both were crying as we finished the walk. If you have never been here....you must go....you will be touched to your very core.
The Vietnam wall always makes me cry. I sat for hours once and watched friends and family come and leave their tributes, touch their loved ones name on the wall, and have an emotional moment standing there. It is a haunting place. One you never forget.
My dad and his brothers all served in WWII and I was fortunate enough to visit the WWII Memorial the first year it opened. As I sat and observed it and all its magnificence I could feel the spirits of the men who gave their lives during this time touch my very soul.
All over the country there are many places like this....places that honor the fallen heroes. Memorial Day is for them. It is not about the bar-b-que....it is not about spending time at the lake. It is a time to spend remembering.....and teaching our young.....so that the fallen ones are never forgotten.