Memorial Day is much more than a three-day weekend. Today Americans pay tribute to those men and women who wore the uniform of the armed forces and gave their all to this country.
Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was originally called, had its origins in the years following the American Civil War. On May 5, 1868, Gen. John “Black Jack” Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization, proclaimed a memorial day of recognition for soldiers who died in the Civil War.
The day was observed May 30, 1868, with flowers placed on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1873, New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday. By 1890, all Northern states had recognized Memorial Day as an official holiday, but the South continued to recognized its own Memorial Day until after sometime after World War I.
Nearly two dozen cities or towns claim to be the first to hold Memorial Day celebrations, but in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., was the official birthplace of the holiday. Memorial Day continued to be celebrated on May 30 until 1971 when it was moved to the last Monday in May in order to give federal employees a three-day holiday. In the years since those early days, Memorial Day has evolved into a day for people to also remember departed members of their own families, visiting cemeteries, cleaning and placing wreaths on graves.
For many of us, long removed from where we grew up, this weekend has become the portal to the summer months. It is a time for cookouts and time spent with families and friends. It is a time to look forward to the easy pace of the coming days and weeks. However, let us not forget the true reason for Memorial Day – particularly as we continue to add names to the long list of those who have given all.