Memorial Day is approaching and although it may be a three-day weekend filled with barbeques and family gatherings, this holiday has a very significant meaning: remembering those who have lost their lives fighting in our armed forces. Memorial Day is a great opportunity to continue to remind ourselves about the ultimate sacrifices so many men and women have made for our country.
What’s the Difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
People often confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day because both are national holidays set forth to honor our Armed Forces. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military in both wartime and peacetime. Veterans Day is largely intended to thank all living veterans for their service and the sacrifices they made to defend our great country. On the other hand, Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country. This day is an opportunity to show our support and gratitude to their families.
Prior to being called Memorial Day, this holiday was called Decoration Day in response to the American Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers died. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead. In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate Soldiers. In the same month in Carbondale, Illinois, 219 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen to Woodlawn Cemetery, where Union hero Major General John A. Logan delivered the principal address. This ceremony gave Carbondale its claim as the first organized, community-wide Memorial Day observance. Waterloo, New York, began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the "birthplace of Memorial Day."
- It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half-staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.
- The World War I poem "In Flanders Fields,"by John McCrea, inspired the Memorial Day custom of wearing red artificial poppies. In 1915, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael began a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to veterans and for "keeping the faith with all who died."
- In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3pm in an act of national unity. The time was chosen because 3pm "is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday."
- The first large observance of Memorial Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery.
Ideas for Observance
- Visit cemeteries to decorate the grave-sites of fallen military members with flowers and flags
- Visit military memorials
- Support a charity that remembers fallen warriors and provides ongoing support to their families
- Attend special events and ceremonies, wear a Memorial Day badge, red artificial poppy or flag pin
As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of historical national awareness and admiration, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these fallen heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.
Logan’s General Order No. 11 (5 May 1868)
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae