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It was originally called Decoration Day!
For more years than I can remember, I have attended Memorial Day services at various cemeteries in our area to watch as veterans groups honor those comrades that have served our country and preserved our way of life and have passed on. I have always brought my camera and published a few of those pictures that I have taken.
We all owe those who participate in those Memorial Day traditions a big thank you for your service honoring those departed souls that served in our armed forces.
A little history is in order about Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day” and was observed on May 30th. That May 30th date was the date that was observed from 1868 to 1970 when it was change to the last Monday in May starting in 1971.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide; he was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of and for Union Civil War veterans. With his proclamation, Logan adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun in the Southern States three years earlier. One author claims that the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. According to a White House address in 2010, the date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in the North.
The 1863 cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania included a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Some have therefore claimed that President Abraham Lincoln was the founder of Memorial Day. However, Chicago journalist Lloyd Lewis tried to make the case that it was Lincoln’s funeral that spurred the soldiers’ grave decoration that followed.
In April 1865, following Lincoln’s assassination, commemorations were widespread. The more than 600,000 soldiers of both sides who died in the Civil War meant that burial and memorialization took on a new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government also began creating the United States National Cemetery System for the Union war dead.
By the 1880s, ceremonies were becoming more consistent across the geography as the GAR provided handbooks that presented specific procedures, poems, and Bible verses for local post commanders to utilize in planning the local event. Historian Stuart McConnell reports; “on the day itself assembled and marched to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of the fallen, an enterprise meticulously organized months in advance to assure that none were missed. Finally came a simple and subdued graveyard service involving prayers, short patriotic speeches, and music, and at the end perhaps a rifle salute.”
By the early 20th century, the GAR complained more and more about the younger generation. In 1913, one Indiana veteran complained that younger people born since the war had a tendency to forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears. Indeed, in 1911 the scheduling of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway car race (later named the Indianapolis 500) was vehemently opposed by the increasing elderly GAR members. The state legislature in 1923 rejected holding the race on the holiday. But the new American Legion and local officials wanted the big race to continue, so governor Warren McCray vetoed the bill and the race went on.
The VFW stated in 2002: “Changing the date merely to create a three-day weekend has undermined the very meaning of the day.” In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember at 3:00 p.m.
Information for this piece came from Wikipedia, and I thank them for it.
Thanks for reading! ~Carlton