In celebrating Memorial Day, it is important to pause each year to remember what this holiday is truly about. While we all welcome the opportunity for extra time off from work, burgers on the grill, warm weather, and time spent relaxing with family and friends, let’s also remember the importance of the sacrifices that have been made in order for us to enjoy the blessings of our family, friends, and community.
While Veterans Day celebrates the service of ALL military personnel, and Independence Day and Flag Day celebrate our establishment as a nation, Memorial Day is a special day of observance for the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in service to our country.
Observed on the last Monday of each May, Memorial Day first began by decree on May 30, 1868, in an order signed by Commander in Chief John A. Logan. He stated that the intention of designating this day was, “for the purpose of strewing flowers on or decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of our country… whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” He specified that while no particular observance or ceremony was “prescribed,” we should create a way to “arrange fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.” The intention was that we, as American people, never forget these brave soldiers.
Today, we ensure that the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten. In December of 2000, the U.S. Congress passed, and the president signed into law, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act.” The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. According to the Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada: “It’s a way we can all help put the ‘memorial’ back in Memorial Day.”
On this day, many people also choose to visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each gravesite at national cemeteries.
Wherever you are this Memorial Day and no matter what you are doing or how you plan to observe the holiday, please take a moment to remember that we have hard-won freedoms for which our soldiers fought and died. Enjoy time with your family, friends, and a restful holiday to the fullest, but also take a moment with us to honor the sacrifices made to protect our great nation.
Here are seven more facts you may not know about the history of Memorial Day.
- Memorial Day Was Unofficially Started by Women
Before the Civil War ended, women’s groups got together to decorate the graves of the soldiers who had passed away. On April 12, 1886, the Columbus Ladies Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia, announced they would dedicate one day a year to decorating graves as a way to remember fallen soldiers. This was one of many events put on by local Ladies Memorial Associations that eventually led to the federal holiday.
- It Was Originally Called Decoration Day
The holiday wasn’t called Memorial Day until 1971: Before that, it was known as Decoration Day. The very first Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, as the future president James A. Garfield gave a remembrance speech to thousands of onlookers at Arlington National Cemetery. Over the years, the day began to be referred to as Memorial Day, and for consistency’s sake, it was nationally re-named in 1971.
- It Wasn’t a Federal Holiday Until 1971
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which proclaimed that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday each May and gave all federal employees the day off of work. But it wasn’t named an official federal holiday until 1971, more than 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
- Newly Freed Slaves Held One of the First Memorial Day Celebrations
One of the very first Memorial Day celebrations on record was held by newly freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1865, freed slaves gathered with members of the U.S. Colored Troops to bury and honor fallen Union soldiers. A crowd of 10,000 people formed a parade around an old race track, where they sang hymns and decorated graves.
- Memorial Day includes a National Moment of Remembrance
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The act asks all Americans to observe a national moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time on the afternoon of Memorial Day.
- Flags Are to be Flown at Half-Mast Until Noon
You might think that the American flag should be flown at half-mast all day, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that the flag should be flown at half-staff “from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes.” This goes for all flags on government buildings, grounds, and naval vessels, as well as flags flown by private citizens.
- Poppies Are a Symbol of Memorial Day
Poppies have long been used to remember fallen soldiers after the bright red flowers began to bloom on World War I battlefields following the end of the war. Originally a symbol used to honor British soldiers who died in World War I, the flower also became associated with Memorial Day in 1915 when Moina Michael, a Georgia teacher and wartime volunteer, penned the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” as part of a campaign to make poppies a national symbol of remembrance. Visit http://poppydayusa.org for more information about National Poppy Day. Visit http://ALAforVeterans.org for more information about the American Legion Auxiliary.
A Proclamation: Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day 2022
On Memorial Day, we remember the patriots who gave their lives in the service of America, in the service of freedom, and in the service of justice. They made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our Constitution and our democracy. We are free because they were brave, and we live by the light of the flame of liberty they kept burning. They are all heroes, and our Nation is forever grateful.
Those who wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces know the pride of service and what it means to dedicate themselves to a cause greater than themselves. These women and men put their lives on the line for an idea — the idea of America. They are the best of us. On this day, as we honor the fallen angels who consecrated this great Nation and the ideals that we stand for with their blood, we rededicate ourselves to the unending work of bringing our country ever closer to that more perfect Union for which they died.
Today and every day, we ask God to protect our troops, to shine light perpetual upon the fallen, and to bring comfort to their families. To those who mourn a loved one, and to America’s Gold Star Families who have lost a loved one in conflict, my heart aches for you. Our Nation owes you and those you have lost a tremendous debt that we can never fully repay. On Memorial Day, we vow to honor their memories and support the families, caregivers, and survivors they left behind.
As we honor the memories of our fallen heroes, we are grateful for the future they made possible for us and rededicate ourselves to seeking enduring peace. Our heroes gave their lives for our country, and they live forever in our hearts — forever proud, forever honorable, and forever American.
In honor and recognition of all of our fallen service members, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950, as amended (36 U.S.C. 116), has requested that the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer and reflection. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe, in their own way, the National Moment of Remembrance.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 30, 2022, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time when people might unite in prayer and reflection. I urge the press, radio, television, and all other information media to cooperate in this observance. I further ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.
I request the Governors of the United States and its Commonwealths and Territories, and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff until noon on this Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout the United States and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control. I also request the people of the United States to display the flag at half-staff from their homes for the customary forenoon period.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.