2012 United States Holidays: Memorial Day
American Flag Decorates War Veterans
Memorial Day History
The Civil War: Confederate and Union Military Deaths
The Civil War was the bloodiest war that Americans fought, and the one with the most casualties. Over 600,000 Union soldiers died during the war, which lasted from 1861-1865, and over 100,000 Confederate soldiers died. In total, approximately 780,333 citizens died for their beliefs.
Today, most Americans observe Memorial Day, however, several U.S. states observe a separate day of remembrance in addition to the last Monday in May. This day varies among the states that participate in the date set aside to honor Confederate soldiers, but the purpose is similar to the federal holiday: honor those fallen in the battle of the Civil War.
John Logan and James A. Garfield
In 1868, General John “Black Jack” Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation to set aside one day in May honoring the fallen Civil War soldiers. The Grand Army of the Republic, referred to as G.A.R., was an organization of Union veterans. General Order #11, as it is known on the history pages, would begin a tradition that General Logan hoped would continue for generations to come. May 30th was selected for decorating the tombstones with flags and flowers, because the flowers were in abundance in late spring. Decoration Day, as the annual event came to be known, eventually evolved into Memorial Day, and Logan’s vision came to fruition.
Arlington National Cemetary
The first official Decoration Day was noted to be a long ordeal, in Arlington, Virginia. Many local towns participated in their own celebrations; however, the event that Major General James A. Garfield, also a member of G.A.R., was a keynote speaker of, took place at the Arlington National Cemetery. General Garfield would later become our nation’s 20thPresident.
But, long before General Logan’s proclamation was ordered, people were already honoring their loved ones with flowers on the gravesites. In fact, it was such a common activity, many towns claimed to be the first to make it an annual activity. Cities which have been noted to make this claim include: Carbondale, IL; Boalsburg, PA; Richmond, VA; Charleston, SC; Macon, GA; and Columbus, MS.
Post World War I Changes
In1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson granted Waterloo, New York, the title of the originator of grave decorating, because they observed this day of mourning as a community. On May 5, 1866, businesses closed their doors for the day and citizens turned their attention to placing flowers and flags on the tombs, commiserating the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in battle.
Decoration Day, originally celebrated to honor the Civil War soldiers, was expanded to include service people who died in any of the American battles following World War I. Thus, in 1967 the transition was made to rename the local holiday from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.
Then, in 1971, an act of Congress made the local holiday an official federal holiday changing the date from May 30th to the last Monday of the month. This year it will fall on May 31st.
Remembering the Confederate Soldiers
States that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day
Mississippi: last Monday in April
Alabama: fourth Monday in April
Georgia: April 26th
North Carolina: May 10th
South Carolina: May 10th
Tennessee: June 3rd
Louisiana: June 3rd
Virginia: Last Monday in May
Texas: January 19th (Confederate Heroes Day)
Quick Look: American Wars
Date American Wars Casualties
1775-1783 American Revolution 4,435
1812-1815 War of 1812 2,260
1846-1848 Mexican War 13,283
1861-1865 Civil War 780,333
4/25-8/12 1898 Spanish American War 2,446
1914-1918 WW I 116,708
1939-1945 WW II 407, 306
1950-1953 Korean War 36, 512
1954-1975 Vietnam War 58, 193
1990-1991 Persian Gulf War 148
Common Memorial Day Themes
There are three common themes that follow Memorial Day: Flags, flowers, and patriotism.
1.Flags: Memorial Day is one of the most popular days to expose your American flag. Note the abundance of mini flags that populate the stores just prior to the date. What child doesn’t like to be a part of the festivities? These hand held flags are just right for tiny fingers to wrap around and wave at the local parades.
Flags are used to decorate the graves of our service people in both local and national cemeteries. In Arlington National Cemetery, individual flags are meticulously placed at each tomb days prior to Memorial Day, in preparation for the national ceremony. In honor of the deceased veterans, flags are to be flown at half staff until noon. Then, it is to be raised to full staff until sunset.
2. Flowers: Flowers were the original ‘decoration’ of the tombstones and are still popular today to use to brighten the gravesites. A wreath of flowers is placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier annually, as part of the Memorial Day ceremony. The wearing of an artificial, red poppy is a custom that has been recognized in association with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The tradition of the red poppy was inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrea, and initiated as a fundraiser, by Moina Michael, a volunteer in 1922. She began by wearing the red poppy to remember those killed in the war, and eventually sold them to her friends. The Veterans of Foreign War Organization continues the sale as a fundraiser even to this day.
3. Patriotism: Patriotism is really the main theme of Memorial Day. After all, if it were not for the war for freedom, we would not be celebrating a day to remember. So, while the parades, dedications, decorations and fun occupy our attention, this Monday, May 31st, let us recall those American citizens who chose the path of service to protect. Through their call to duty our nation has enjoyed the abundant privileges of our liberty.
We show our patriotism through the wearing of the colors of the American flag, or jewelry that symbolizes the flag; tee-shirts that have bold, patriotic claims, or flying the American flag. We participate in Memorial Day activities through our local communities, churches and veteran organizations. We also do this by pausing for a minute of silence at 3:00 pm local time, to reflect on those who gave up their lives in order for us to enjoy our freedom. The National Moment of Remembrance Act, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, in 2000. Let each of us stop what we are doing and reflect, pray, or remember that our nation, the United States, has an abundance of freedom fighters, past and present.
As General John A. Logan’s proclamation stated, over a century ago, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations, that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic”.
To visit the Arlington National Cemetery:
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