While many Americans have an extra day added to this weekend, let us not forget that Memorial Day is dedicated to those who have served our country and fought and died for the freedom we enjoy today. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. The Civil War which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “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.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363).
Regardless where we come from, it is because of those troops, sailors, and airmen who sacrificed their lives why we have a United States of America. Let us also not forget the families who have sacrifice their loved ones for us. May God rest their souls and may He also bless and protect the men and women in uniform who have served and those continue to defend our freedom, as well as those of others. You are in our prayers!