Happy Memorial Day: Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War
Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. US Eastern time. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers usually place an American flag upon each grave site located in a National Cemetery.
In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also used as a time for picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events. One of the longest standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. Some Americans also view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season. The national "Click It or Ticket" campaign ramps up beginning Memorial Day weekend, noting the beginning of the most dangerous season for auto accidents and other safety related incidents. The U.S. Air Force "101 Critical Days of Summer" begin on this day as well. Many Americans use Memorial Day to also honor any family members who have died, not just servicemen.
Memorial Day formerly occurred on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), advocate returning to this fixed date, although the significance of the date is tenuous. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, has repeatedly introduced measures to return Memorial Day to its traditional day since 1987.
In addition to national observances, many individual communities hold memorial observance for fallen soldiers who were from that town by having a ceremony in a church or town memorial park. It is also common for fire and police departments to remember and honor members lost in the line of duty. Towns often hold a memorial day parade to remember those people. Participation in such a parade is by community organizations such as members of the local emergency services and their vehicles, Rotary Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and bands from the local high school or church groups. Communities may also hold a town-wide picnic barbecue at a local park in which the whole town is invited to attend.
Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.
According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. The freed slaves reinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to individual graves, fenced in the graveyard & built an entry arch declaring it a Union graveyard; a very daring thing to do in the South shortly after North's victory. On May 30 1886? the freed slaves returned to the spiffed up graveyard with flowers they'd picked from the countryside & decorated the individual grave-sites, thereby creating the 1st Decoration Day. A parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.
The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the birthplace because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter, and because it is likely that the friendship of General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who led the call for the day to be observed each year and helped spread the event nationwide, was a key factor in its growth.
General Logan had been impressed by the way the South honored their dead with a special day and decided the Union needed a similar day. Reportedly, Logan said that it was most fitting; that the ancients, especially the Greeks, had honored their dead, particularly their heroes, by chaplets of laurel and flowers, and that he intended to issue an order designating a day for decorating the grave of every soldier in the land, and if he could he would have made it a holiday.
Logan had been the principal speaker in a citywide memorial observation on April 29, 1866 at a cemetery in Carbondale, Illinois, an event that likely gave him the idea to make it a national holiday. On May 5, 1868 in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization, Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle. The tombs of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in remembrance of this day.
Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army and also because there were very few veterans of the Union Army who lived in the South. A notable exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866 at its Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.
The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882 but did not become more common until after World War II and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967 . On June 28, 1968 the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend and for the first time recognized Columbus Day as a federal holiday.
The holidays included Washington's Birthday (which evolved into Presidents' Day), Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971 . After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply at the state level, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years, although Veterans Day was eventually changed back to its traditional date. Ironically, most corporate businesses no longer close on Columbus Day or Veterans Day, and an increasing number are staying open on President's Day as well. Memorial Day, however, has endured as one holiday during which most businesses stay closed because it marks the beginning of the "summer vacation season," as does neighboring Canada's Victoria Day which occurs on the prior Monday.
In literature and music
The southeastern U.S. celebrates Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of all family members, and it is not reserved for those who served in the military. The region observes Decoration Day the Sunday before Memorial Day. Jason Isbell of the rock band Drive-By Truckers chronicled such an event in his epic ballad "Decoration Day," which is also the title cut to the eponymous album.
Charles Ives's symphonic poem "Decoration Day" depicts the holiday as he experienced it in his childhood, with his father's band leading the way to the town cemetery, the playing of Taps on a trumpet, and a livelier march tune on the way back to the town. It is frequently played with three other Ives works based on holidays as the second movement of A New England Holidays Symphony. Memorial Day USA