Memorial Day is a tribute to the fallen men and women that have served in our military branches. It comes around every May here in the United States, and for many, the celebration is grand and for others it’s quaint and quiet. Some people don’t celebrate Memorial Day at all and that’s okay too. Whether you throw a neighborhood block party or don’t acknowledge the day at all, there are still many different events, nuances and quirks that led up to Memorial Day’s inception. So a little “Did You Know?” is in order.
What’s in a name?
Memorial Day dates back to 1868 but it wasn’t always referred to as such. Up until that time, the observance was known as Decoration Day, as people would decorate the grave sites of fallen soldiers. Over the years the name slowly changed to Memorial Day and in 1967, the name became officially recognized as a federal holiday .
Look closely at the attire of many people, veterans of the military and headstones at cemeteries and you probably will notice small red flowers. Those small red flowers are Red Poppies. So why is the Red Poppy so significant? Our own Department of Veterans Affairs gives credit to a poem titled “In Flanders Fields, written by John McRae, a World War I Colonel as the origin. In the poem the Colonel conveys his sorrow at the many fallen soldiers by stating: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row”. In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars adopted the Red Poppy as their official memorial flower. This led to the creation of a factory that produced artificial Poppies that employed disabled and unemployed veterans.
A Moment of Silence: It’s the law!
One of the more lesser known Acts signed into law by President Clinton in 2000 was the National Moment of Remembrance Act. As addressed in his statement about the Act, President Clinton designated the hour of three pm local time to be a “moment of unity” for the country, with sixty seconds of silence to be observed. Although, the Bill states that it the moment of silence is only “requested”.
A Tale of Two Memorial Days
While the majority of the nation celebrates Memorial Day on a broad scope, many may not realize that the holiday was originally started as a tribute to fallen Union soldiers. Since then though, the holiday now incorporates soldiers killed in all wars. After the Union victory during the Civil War and as northern states were individually marking the occasion, southern states on the losing end of the battle were also doing the same and to this day Confederate Memorial Day remains a state holiday for them. A total of fourteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Mississippi) celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on a state level.
A Matter of Respect
According to American History Professor David Blight, one of the earliest known observances of memoriam occurred on May 1, 1865, in Charleston SC at an outdoor prison, converted from the old Washington Race Course and Jockey Club. Approximately twenty-eight former slaves removed 257 Union soldiers who had been held prisoners by the Confederate soldiers from a mass grave and gave them each a proper burial. Following, the burial, an archway was constructed a sign reading: “Martyrs of the Race Course” was inscribed. In a show of solidarity and respect, over ten thousand held a parade on the grounds.