On the last Monday of May each year, the United States celebrates Memorial Day. The holiday honors all U.S. military personnel who died while on active duty. This year, it falls on May 27.
Memorial Day Used to Be Called Decoration Day
It started a few years after the Civil War. In 1972, it was officially declared as a federal holiday. Unofficially, Memorial Day also marks the start of summer in the U.S.
Most Americans observe the holiday by visiting memorials and cemeteries, joining parades for the occasion and having family gatherings.
How Memorial Day Started
In the beginning, when the holiday was still called Decoration Day, it only honored those who lost their lives as they fought in the Civil War. But when the U.S. got involved in WWI, the holiday extended to honor all the U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in the wars.
General John A. Logan, the organization for Northern Civil War veterans’ leader, called for a day of remembrance in May 1868 and declared May 30 of that year as Decoration Day.
From then on, the holiday was celebrated on May 30. With the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, the holiday was moved to the last Monday of May, thus allowing federal employees to enjoy a three-day weekend. The change of date took effect after three years.
Some Facts Worth Knowing
1. National cemeteries
The U.S. Civil War had the most number of lives lost compared to other conflicts in the history of the United States. In fact, the number of casualties resulted in the establishment of the first national cemeteries in the country.
Many cities and towns in the U.S. soon started paying tributes to the fallen soldiers by reciting prayers and putting flowers on their graves each spring.
2. Moment of remembrance
Likewise, a one-minute National Moment of Remembrance is held at 3:00 p.m. (local time) during the celebration of Memorial Day. It was passed by Congress in 2000.
3. Waterloo, New York
Did you know that the officially declared birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York? Waterloo celebrated the first Memorial Day on May 5, 1866 by hosting a community-wide celebration, where businesses cooperated by closing their offices and soldiers’ graves decorated with small flags and flowers.
4. Difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day
Veterans Day honors all people who served in the military in peacetime and wartime, whether they survived or died. Memorial Day is a holiday to honor all those who died defending the United States.
5. Poppy flower
One of the first plants to sprout in the battlefields around Europe was the Papaver rhoeas or the common red field poppy. The seeds of the poppy plant are scattered by the wind. They lay dormant in the ground and start germinating only after the ground has been disturbed, which happened after WWI.
A Canadian physician and soldier named John McCrae saw it happen first hand when he was in the battleground in Belgium. In 1915 he wrote the poem In Flanders Fields.
Before WWI ended in 1918, American professor Moina Michael wrote We Shall Keep the Faith, drawing inspiration from the McRae poem. A line in her poem said to honor the dead by wearing the poppy red, leading to the tradition of wearing a red poppy to remember those who were killed in the war. Moina Michael was later called The Poppy Lady to honor her.
The custom was later adopted by several Allied Nations, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
We do hope that you will spend some time to remember the men and women who lost their lives to keep the nation safe this Memorial Day.
The management and staff of Day Translations, Inc. wish to thank all those who sacrificed their lives to protect the nation. They are our heroes and we are deeply grateful for the valuable gift they have given us. At the same time, we want to honor the people they love.
Image Copyright: US Embassy from New Zealand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons