The first Memorial Day celebrations were the result of the Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, and claimed more lives than any conflict in United States history. It also necessitated the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.
By the late 1860s, Americans in various cities had begun paying their respects in the spring to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and saying prayers. It is not known exactly where this tradition originated; many different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Today, every year on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, head of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a national day of remembrance later that month.
“May 30, 1868 is designated for the purpose of sprinkling flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of those comrades who died in defense of their country during the last rebellion, and whose bodies now rest in nearly every town, village and cemetery hamlet in the country,” he proclaims.
The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. On the first day of decorating, General James Garfield delivered a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and 5,000 attendees decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there. Memorial Day, as Decorating Day gradually became known, originally honored only those who had lost their lives 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, including World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. . For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had chosen for the first day of the decoration.
But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change took effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for our deceased veterans, not for our living veterans. We honor the service of all of our living veterans on Veterans Day, November 11. It is not appropriate to say “Happy Remembrance Day”. It is appropriate for Veterans Day.
Excerpts from History.com. Gene Hays is an author and historian and a Vietnam veteran, with books available on Amazon.com.