Memorial Day often brings to mind picnics and BBQ’s, a day off from work, and lots of sales. While we’re right there with you (you’ll see our Memorial Day sale too), we also want to take a moment and draw your attention to the real point of Memorial Day.
This week, we felt it important to offer a few ideas for how to honor those who have died while serving in the US military.
A Little History on Memorial Day
Memorial Day, and the weekend leading up to it, is considered to be the unofficial start of summer. The day is typically observed on the last Monday of May, and is dedicated as a way to honor those men and women who died while serving in the United States military.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, first began in the years that followed the Civil War. It officially became a federal holiday in 1971. To date, many Americans observe Memorial Day by participating in parades, having family gatherings, or spending time with friends at barbeques.
By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, there were more casualties than any conflict in the history of the United States. Because of this, national cemeteries around the country needed to be established. Americans around the nation then began holding memorials to fallen soldiers by laying flowers at their graves and reciting prayers in their honor.
In 1966, the federal government officially declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. This location was chosen because, ever since May 5, 1866, townspeople held community-wide events where local businesses temporarily closed and residents decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flags and flowers.
It was on May 5, 1868, that General John A. Logan, the leader of the Northern Civil War Veterans, called for a national day of remembrance to honor all fallen soldiers. He called the day Decoration Day, and selected May 30 because it didn’t fall on the anniversary of any battles.
While Memorial Day originally paid homage to those who lost their lives in the Civil War, after World War I, the holiday eventually evolved to honor all American service members who lost their lives in all wars. While Memorial Day was always observed on May 30, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which relegated Memorial Day to the final Monday in May so that a three-day weekend could be instituted for federal employees. This change officially went into effect in 1971, when Memorial Day was also declared a federal holiday.
While there are many different traditions that people celebrate across the United States on Memorial Day, one popular and long-standing one has been the incorporation of military personnel and veterans into local and national parades, with the largest Memorial Day parades being held in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
What Can You do to Honor the Sacrifice of Those Who Died Serving Our Country?
While it’s great to spend time with family and friends barbequing and shopping this Memorial Day, let’s not forget that our gestures — both large and small — can celebrate those who have given their lives in service to our country.
1. You Can Wear a Red Poppy
Typically, near and on Memorial Day, you can find members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) selling their felt or paper poppies at local shopping centers. The red poppy has since become a widely recognized symbol that memorializes soldiers who have lost their lives in battle. This symbol was inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Field,” which was written by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. In the poem, Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae wrote about the red poppies that covered the graves of fallen soldiers.
2. Pause For a Moment at 3p.m.
The National Moment of Remembrance resolution that was passed in 2000 calls for everyone to pause whatever they are doing at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. This brief moment of reflection allows us to think about the sacrifices that our fallen soldiers have made so that we can all continue to live freely in our country.
3. Fly the Stars and Stripes
If you have an American flag, Memorial Day is one of the days that you should have it out and flying. If you have a flagpole at your house, then the flag should be flown at half-staff because Memorial Day is a national day of mourning. During Memorial Day, flags should be flown from sunrise until noon in honor of those who have lost their lives serving our country. The flag should then be raised back to full staff from 12 p.m. until sunset to honor living veterans.
4. Spend Some Time Visiting National Cemeteries or Memorials
On Memorial Day, there will be ceremonies held at most cemeteries near you that honor our fallen soldiers. If you cannot find a ceremony, then you can always visit and lay flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. Likewise, most cemeteries and towns have memorials and statues or pathways that commemorate both soldiers and veterans. In taking a small piece of time out of your day to pay respects to a fallen soldier, you are honoring the true meaning behind Memorial Day.
5. Work With Veterans or Active Military
Take some time to research different agencies that are local to you that work with either veterans or active members of our military and their families. For example, you can start by looking into local VA hospitals or USO centers. Oftentimes, these places have volunteer programs in place that will connect you with the right people so that you can get started. There are a great number of ways that you can continue honoring our fallen soldiers, veterans, and current soldiers all throughout the year.
This Memorial Day, Make it a Day to Remember
Remember that family gatherings and holiday sales can be fun, but the true meaning of Memorial Day is to spend some time honoring those who so bravely gave their lives in the fight to maintain our freedom. Our five suggestions are merely starting points of ways that you can honor our fallen soldiers and veterans this Memorial Day. No act is too big or too small. The key is that you take some time away from your day to do something in remembrance of those who served our country.