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Why A Memorial Day: A Short History

Updated on May 28, 2012

Yes, it waves still. May it wave always.

"O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave" past and present.
"O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave" past and present. | Source

What is Memorial Day to you?

I must say my knowledge of the background and character of Memorial Day had become almost limited to “Remembering our dead”, in short our ancestors (something the Asians and Mormons seem most famous for doing these days.)

I did, however, grow up when artificial red poppies were sold to raise money for our veterans, and for them to wear on Memorial Days (along with the rest of us who marked the day)…a tradition we might well actively resume for now and the future to better support today's veterans!

In America our Memorial Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May, but it wasn’t always so.

It became an official national (federal) holiday only in 1971. It was first observed in the town of Waterloo, New York in 1866 when the locals flew the American flag at half mast, decorated the graves of their town’s dead from the Civil War, and closed all their businesses for the day. [Nowadays businesses seldom close on any day, and instead feature "Memorial Day Sales" tied to the date on the calendar, but having little or nothing to do with any memorial!]

It was not until two years later that Union Civil War veterans celebrated the day throughout most of the northern states on May 30, 1868 under the auspices of their veterans’ organization called The Grand Army of the Republic.

To honor the veterans and the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy, southern states have held their own memorial services on dates established by most of the states of the former Confederate States of America, with dates ranging from April in Mississippi, to January‘s Confederate Heroes Day in Texas.

On past Memorial Days military services have been held at the Gettysburg National Military Park and at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Special services for our war dead who died at sea were often held at U. S. ports where wreaths, flowers, and even small boats of flowers were dedicated and set adrift following military memorial services.

Memorial Days, wherever they are held, have always honored those who not only died, but veterans who served their states and country in all of America’s major conflicts and military engagements.

Special military services are also held periodically at military cemeteries worldwide where Americans are buried and not forgotten.

More recently, many Americans have chosen Memorial Day to remember their own family members, regardless of whether or not they served in the military, by also visiting and decorating their graves...lest we forget.


© 2012 Demas W. Jasper All rights reserved.

Memorial Day this year....

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    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Deborah Brooks: Let's figure out how we can inspire this next generation to reach to the greatness that is their heritage. It can be done.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      what a wonderful hub to remind of us our soldiers men and women all in the world sacrifice for us.. Bless you for this..

      I love your hub I will post it on Facebook


    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      PurvisBobbi44: When we really forget what Memorial Day "was" all about, we might have to learn the lessons all over again for ourselves. There will be new military families grieving this Memorial Day, and that should be all the reminder anyone needs, if not, watch PBS some night when they show the honor roll of those military who have died in lands they have been sent to by "we the people" and then remember to vote in November to honor such sacrifices past and present.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Rodric29: Now that the children are "grown, flown, and on their own, we could be holding Family Home Evening every night (and do, sort of!) It is wonderful that at least one night each week you gather the family around, and sing a hymnn, read from the scriptures, share a lesson, and have some treats along with family counsel and discussions. Keep it up. "Train up a child...etc."

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 5 years ago from Florida


      Thank you for writing this wonderful hub to remind us what Memorial Day is all about--not just picnics and hotdogs.


      I voted Up and Awesome.

      Your Hub Friend,


    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      We have Family Home Evenings and Memorial Day will be a special day this year remembering our kindred dead and those who have served this great land.