Memorial Day is a holiday which has become associated with a long weekend when people grill outside, fish, and generally enjoy the beginning of the summer season. However, this holiday has a much deeper meaning that the people of the United States would do well in learning how to remember.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began during the Civil War. On Decoration Day, family and community members would place decorations, such as flowers and flags, on the graves of the war dead. Decoration Day was declared “Memorial Day” and made an official holiday by General John A. Logan on May 30, 1868.
Originally, Memorial Day was meant to remember only those who had died in the Civil War. Over time, however, the holiday began to encompass all wars of US involvement. This change occurred in the aftermath of World War I. John McCrae, a surgeon in the Canadian Army, wrote the now-famous poem "In Flanders Field" during this war. As a result, the tradition of poppy placement on graves and recognition of all war loss arose. Today, veterans’ organizations including the American Legion and VFW still sell poppies as a universal symbol for Memorial Day and as a way to raise money for veterans in need.
In 1971, to create a three-day weekend for the holiday, Congress passed a bill moving Memorial Day from its traditional observance on May 30 to the last Monday in May. This change has often been blamed as the reason for changing attitudes and increasing ignorance of the meaning of the day, thereby shifting the public’s focus from remembrance to the plans of a long weekend.
Regardless of which day is set aside, Memorial Day is a day to honor the service and sacrifice of the nation’s veterans. It is not a day set aside to grill or to fish. It is a day of remembrance and thankfulness for the men and women who have given their lives for the safety and freedom of all Americans.
To this day, some individuals observe Memorial Day by decorating the graves of those who have served, and even died, in battle around the world. Others attend services held in their communities, observe a moment of silence, or visit one of many war memorials scattered throughout the country. Regardless of the chosen observance, the overarching theme is the same: the gratitude of a nation for the brave few who gave everything they had for a country they loved.