Meaning behind Memorial Day

This is a devotional written by my father-in-law, a retired captain in the Air Force. Would have been a bit more appropriate yesterday but what can I say I was spending the day with my family. Hope you find it interesting, insightful and something you just might want to share with your kids. Amidst all the barbecues and fun times I think it's good to remember those who paid all that we might go free (sounds a little bit like Jesus does it not). 

For many of us, Memorial Day has become a holiday to enjoy with family and friends, a week-end to enjoy auto cook-outs, golf, auto racing, etc.

As the years pass, I fear that many of us have lost the real meaning of this wonderful holiday and the sacrifices of those who this day was set aside to remember and honor.

After considerable research, I have developed the following as facts that I believe to be true.

Our Memorial Day is derived from an ancient tradition of many cultures where the tombs of fallen soldiers were decorated with wreaths and flowers.

In the USA, there are historical accounts that soldiers’ tombs and graves were decorated long before our Civil War began.

During the Civil War, there are accounts of many cities and communities setting aside a day to remember and honor their war dead.  This occurred in both the North and the South. Some of those cities were: Waterloo, NY; Columbus, MS; Macon, GA; Petersburg, VA; Richmond, VA; Boalsburg, PA; and, Carbondale, IL.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to honor the sacrifices of civil war soldiers by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. The date of May 30 was selected because that was the only day in May where there are no records of a major Civil War battle having been fought.

General Logan’s General Order No. 11 declared that:

“The 30th of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing 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. In this observance, no form of ceremony is prescribed, put posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

During the first celebration of this Decoration Day in 1868, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

New York was first state to officially recognize this holiday in 1873. By 1890, all of the northern states recognized it. Most of the southern states refused to recognize it. Instead, most of the southern states recognized another day as Confederate Memorial Day. That tradition slowly began to change after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died in the Civil War to Americans who died while fighting in any war.

In 1971, Congress passed the National Holiday Act to ensure a three day weekend for federal holidays. It designated the last day in April as Memorial Day.

Several southern states still recognize their Civil War dead on different dates. Among these are: Texas (Jan 19); Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi (April 26); South Carolina (May 10); and Louisiana and Tennessee (June 3 which is also Jefferson Davis’ birthday).

In some recent sessions of Congress, both the Senate and the House have offered bills to change Memorial Day to the traditional date of May 30 but none of them has passed.

As a youth, growing up in North Carolina, I well remember that many southerners still considered Memorial Day as a day to honor the northern soldiers. How sad.

I consider Memorial Day to be a somber, solemn, reverent holiday to recognize, remember, and honor all men and women of our great country who have made the ultimate sacrifice in combat. May they rest in peace.



Posted on May 30, 2017 .