Memorial Day, for many Americans, is the unofficial signal that summer is here. Vacations are booked, grills get cleaned, stores advertise sales, and people generally prepare for fun. The reason the holiday exists, however, is much more somber.
In the late 1860’s, many communities had begun to clean and decorate the graves of their fallen soldiers each spring as acts of remembrance. Some records show that a group of freed slaves in Charleston, SC might have held the first Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as it was first called, a few months after the end of the Civil War. The holiday was formalized in 1868 by General John A. Logan in Waterloo, NY, when he declared May 30 should be recognized nationally as a day for the “ “. He chose this date specifically because there were no battles associated with it. By the 1890s, all states had adopted Decoration Day as a state holiday, even if some former confederate states celebrated it on a different day.
The US involvement in World War I meant a new generation of soldiers died while serving their country in battle. Decoration Day, created to honor fallen Civil War soldiers, expanded to become Memorial Day and encompassed service members who died while fighting in any war. Memorial Day continued to be celebrated on May 30 each year until 1971 when Congress changed it to the last Monday in May.
This year, as Americans are coping with the global pandemic and the turmoil that has accompanied it, celebrating Memorial Day as it was originally intended seems especially poignant. Here are some ideas on how to honor those men and women who died while serving their country:
1. Display the American flag – Fly your flag at half-staff from sunrise to noon to commemorate the fallen and then raise it to full-staff at noon to honor all veterans.
2. Clean up a neglected tombstone – Visit your local cemetery and bring flowers or small flags to honor fallen heroes from past wars in your community.
3. Pause at 3pm – The National Moment of Remembrance was passed in 2000.
4. Participate in a local parade – Many cities host parades, and with virtual options being planned this year, it’s easier than ever to be a part of them.
5. Volunteer with VA hospitals and veterans’ organizations – Investigate the many opportunities to support service members who returned from the front lines.
Contec Professional is a proud supporter of our service members, both past and present. Best wishes for a safe and healthy Memorial Day!