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A History and Celebration of Memorial Day

Posted on May 12, 2015
In today’s world, it is often easy to forget the meaning behind Memorial Day—we see sales that pop up in every shop and families use the nice weather and long weekend as an excuse for a vacation or backyard BBQ, but it isn’t just a time to enjoy the season of spring. 

The origin of the holiday is somewhat ambiguous as the tradition of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers was practiced well before the first established “Decoration Day” (the original name of Memorial Day). Decoration Day originated to remember soldiers from the Civil War, and was later extended to honor all Americans who were lost during service.

It is debated where Memorial Day was birthed, and traditions for the day vary widely from North to South, but on May 5, 1868, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John A. Logan, called for Decoration Day to be nationwide, and May 30 was picked for that same year as there was no anniversary for a specific battle on that day.

The term “Memorial Day” did not come into use until 1882, and wouldn’t become popular until after World War II, and the Federal government wouldn’t officially declare the last Monday of every May “Memorial Day” until 1967.

In 1915, Moina Michael, who was inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Field,” wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep Faith,” which motivated people to wear red poppies on Memorial Day:

“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.”

Moina was the first American to wear a poppy and sold the flowers to people in her community, donating the money to benefit servicemen in need. While the tradition of poppy wearing has died down some in recent years, you may see the flowers decorate graves or loved ones wearing them to honor their servicemen and women.

As the traditional meaning and observances of Memorial Day have changed, we would like to encourage everyone to observe Memorial Day and celebrate in their own way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

     -Plant poppies in your yard or plant trees where your city approves in memory of lost ones
     -Visit gravesites and pause for a moment of remembrance for your loved one and all who have been lost in service
     -Connect with Memorial Vet Bikers in your area to join a celebration ride to memorial sites
      -Visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes
      -Fly the United Sates flag at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day (According to United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1, Section 7, “the flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, and then raised to the top of the staff.”)
      -Participate in the “National Moment Of Remembrance” at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day—pause and think upon the true meaning of the day

If you plan on getting together with family and friends for the traditional outdoor BBQ for the holiday weekend, don’t forget to take a moment and remember all fallen soldiers, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

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  1. Ronna Hawk | May 23, 2015
    Thank you for this information.  It is so enlightening. I hope everyone will celebrate as you have you suggested. We should never forget that freedom is not free.  Many have fought and died that we may live in the land of the free and home of the brave.  God bless those men women.

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