Most of us are by now well into the first long weekend of the year. But Memorial Day, which we officially celebrate today, is much more than just a day set aside to give people a three-day weekend. It is a day America honors those men and women who wore the uniform of the armed forces and gave their all to this country.
According to several Internet sites, the history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was originally called, had its origins in the years following the 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. A few years later, New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. All Northern states had recognized Memorial Day as an official holiday by 1890, but the South continued to recognized its own Memorial Day until 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. It continued to be celebrated on May 30 until 1971 when it was moved to the last Monday in May to give a three-day holiday to federal employees.
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 for spending with families and friends. It is a time to look forward to the easy pace of the coming days and weeks. There is nothing wrong with this, but let us not forget this weekend the true intent of Memorial Day, especially America continues to add new names to the list of those who have given all.