Why we celebrate Memorial Day: A history of the annual national commemoration

All Americans are asked to pause at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on the last Monday in May for a ‘‘National Moment of Remembrance”

Antioch to hold commemoration Monday morning

Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Source: govinfo.gov

From govinfo.gov and USMemorialDay.org

Memorial Day is the national observance on the last Monday in May to honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Memorial Day commemorates the women and men who have died while in military service, and it will be observed this year on May 30, 2022, the last Monday in May as designated by Federal law (36 U.S.C. 116).

Begun in the late 1860’s as Decoration Day, spring flowers were distributed at graves to honor those fallen in the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century, ceremonies were being held in cities across the country. In 1966, the Federal Government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. (Source: The Origins of Memorial Day, Department of Veterans Affairs )

According to History.com, “some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day…which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866…because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.”

According to USMemorialDay.org, the origins of this day are difficult to prove “as over two dozen towns and cities lay claim to be the birthplace. Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War (which ended in 1865) and a desire to honor our dead. On the 5th of May in 1868, General John Logan who was the national commander of the Grand Army of the republic, officially proclaimed it in his General Order No. 11…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.’ Because the day wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle, the general called it, the date of Decoration Day.

On the first Decoration Day, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington Cemetery while General James Garfield made a historic speech.

New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. It was recognized by all northern states by 1890. Differently, the South refused to acknowledge the day and honored their dead, on separate days. This went on 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.

With the Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363), it is now observed on the last Monday in May by almost every state.”

Red Poppies on Memorial Day

Also, according to USMemorialDay.org, “In 1915, inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ Moina Michael replied with her own poem: We cherish too, the Poppy red That grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. See more on the significance of the Red Poppy.

Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later, and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help.

Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their ‘Buddy’ Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.”

Public Law 106-579, signed into law December 28, 2000, created the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance, and it designated 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day each year as the ‘‘National Moment of Remembrance.” At this time all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps’.”

Antioch to Hold Annual Memorial Day Commemoration Monday Morning

Memorial Day in Antioch will begin Monday morning at 9:00 am with a processional, followed by a ceremony, then continue with a fundraising lunch at Smith’s Landing Seafood Grill. For details click, here.

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Fredericksburg National Cemetery from govinfo.gov


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