I was trying to find something that adequately communicates the true meaning of Memorial Day, and perhaps the most informative article I could find comes from an Air Force website that provides news for those currently serving our country. It was written by Lt. Col. Mitchell Culp, and is entitled Memorial Day Remembrance. I'm reprinting much of it here.
Contrary to popular belief, Memorial Day is much more than a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. To many people, especially the nation's thousands of combat veterans, this day has a history stretching all the way back to the Civil War and is an important reminder of those who died in the service of their country.
The story of Memorial Day begins almost 150 years ago, in the summer of 1865, when a local druggist, Henry Welles, mentioned to some friends at a gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War, "it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves." Nothing became of this suggestion until he renewed the idea the following spring to Army Gen. John Murray.
General Murray himself was a Civil War hero and intensely patriotic. He supported the idea completely and marshaled veterans' support. Plans were developed for a more complete celebration by a local citizen's committee headed by Mr. Welles and General Murray.
On May 5, 1866, the village (Waterloo, New York) was decorated with flags at half staff, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the strains of music to the three village cemeteries. One year later, on May 5, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War Soldiers. Army Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the veterans' organization, Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day by General Order 11 on May 5, 1868. This was two years after the 1866 commemoration in Waterloo N.Y. By Congressional proclamation in 1966, Waterloo was cited as the birthplace of this important holiday.
After World War 1, the day came to be observed in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars, and was renamed. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day is observed with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and by religious services, parades and speeches nationwide. Flags, insignia, and flowers are placed on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.
For many, this day carries no special meaning except perhaps an extra day off from work and school, a barbecue, the start of summer holiday season, and for stores, the opportunity to hold their annual Memorial Day Weekend sale. In reality, the holiday is observed in honor of our nation's armed service personnel who were killed in wartime. It is tradition to mark the holiday by flying the national flag at half staff until noon and numerous memorial ceremonies held throughout the United States.
Here's an idea that was suggested to me by several people who called this morning. It is time that the City of Sierra Madre honored its true heroes, our World War II veterans. Many will be at tomorrow's ceremony. Let's e-mail our Fourth of July Committee Chairman and nominate these men as our Fourth of July Grand Marshals. The deadline to nominate is tomorrow, Veteran's Day, so please do not delay! The e-mail address to do so is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Hope to see you tomorrow.