Monday May 31, 2010, is the USA’s annual Memorial Day celebration, a time to remember the sacrifices made by US service men and women who gave their lives to protect our country and the freedoms we hold so dear. I wanted to learn more about the history of this holiday, so went to the US Department of Veterans Affairs web site for more information.
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans established “Decoration Day” as a time to decorate the graves of our war dead with flowers. Some communities had already held springtime tributes as early as 1866. It wasn’t until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor all who have died in American wars.
In 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, scheduled for the last Monday in May.
Throughout our country’s history, our national culture has expected Americans to demonstrate appreciation for those called to serve and for those who lost their lives serving our country. That has not always happened (witness the reception our Vietnam War veterans received upon their return from duty in the 70’s), but expressions of gratitude are consistently demonstrated today for the men and women currently serving and for those who lost their lives in service to our country.
A crowd of about 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance. The tradition of placing small American flags on each grave began at that first ceremony and continues at many national cemeteries today.
Over 1.1 million Americans have died in the nation’s wars. Let us honor their sacrifice by taking part in the “National Moment of Remembrance,” enacted by Congress in late 2000. Wherever you are at 3pm local time on Memorial Day, pause for a minute of silence to remember those who have died in service to our nation.