Memorial Day is a time to thank those in the United States armed forces who died protecting our freedom both during peacetime and in times of war. It has evolved since its humble beginnings at a single burial site to become a national holiday. Banks, some businesses, city and state offices, libraries and schools close so that people can remember the sacrifice of those men and women who served.
Sometimes unique things are found in the history of holidays and national traditions. Memorial Day is no exception. For those who wonder, US military bases around the country and the world do not close on this day; military women and men still put their uniforms on and go to work. From personal experience, the significance of the day is not lost on those in uniform. I am an Air Force veteran and attended many services held on bases during Memorial Day.
Some interesting facts are:
Decoration Day Was Started By Women
During the Civil War, women engaged in the task of decorating the graves of those who died in combat as early as 1861. Flowers and flags were used to mark and decorate the graves; prayers were read and silence followed.
In many areas of the Southern United States, families still gather at cemeteries and decorate the graves. After remembering the dead, a picnic is served on blankets and sheets at the site.
It Was Observed For Years Before It Became A National Holiday
On May 5, 1866, Civil War Veteran General John B. Murray, accompanied by other veterans, visited three cemeteries to decorate the graves of those who died during the Civil War. Although it was traditionally celebrated on May 30, the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968 officially named the last Monday in May as the official national holiday to create a three day weekend.
Congress finally declared the day a national holiday in 1971.
The Longest Running Tradition On This Day Is A Race
Attention NASCAR fans; it will interest you to know that since 1911, the Indy 500 race is the longest running traditional event held on Memorial Day.
Flags Are Guarded At Arlington National Cemetery
Starting a tradition in the 1950’s, the US Army’s 3rd Infantry place flags at over 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Throughout the entire weekend, the battalion patrols the grounds 24 hours a day to ensure the flags stay in place and the graves are not disturbed.
Wearing Red Poppies Began With A Poem
On May 3, 1915, Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote a poem to commemorate a fallen friend whose funeral he presided over after the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem, “In Flanders Fields,” talks about how poppies continued to grow and bloom regardless of the carnage occurring. After the battle was over, poppies were still there.
The practice of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day took place in the US during the 1950’s.
As we celebrate Memorial Day, it is not a cheesy slogan to remember that “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Ask any military veteran, it’s a price worth paying. That’s why we celebrate it; to remember those who paid that price.