This weekend, millions of Americans take to the nation’s highways. Three day weekends send people in pursuit of a little rest and relaxation. Memorial Day weekenders flock to the lakes, the campgrounds, or lounge in the backyard, sweating over a sizzling grill of bratwurst and burgers. Ah yes, the familial traditions of Memorial Day weekend. Boating, brats, and burgers…but is there more?
Originally named Decoration Day, Memorial Day’s founding took place a short time after the Civil War. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed on May 5, 1868,
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of the comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
Though several states vie for the origination of Memorial Day, Lyndon Johnson designated Waterloo, NY as the birthplace for this honorable day of tribute. In 1866, Waterloo established an annual observance, closing businesses and setting aside a day to drape flowers over the graves of fallen soldiers.
Arlington Cemetery hosted the first official Decoration Day on a warm spring day in May of 1868. President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the five thousand gathered to remember those who sacrificed their lives in the great conflict between the North and South. Future President, James Garfield delivered the keynote address, and after a stirring ceremony of speakers and music, those congregated decorated the burial plots of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Sadly, the noble nature of Memorial Day’s specific founding remains widely unknown. According to a Gallup poll, only 28% of Americans knew that Memorial Day existed to honor the lives of those lost in war. Others responded Memorial Day honored veterans, and some answered Memorial Day is set aside to honor all deceased. To encourage recognition of our war fallen, Congress established the National Monument of Remembrance in 2002. According to the White House Commission on Remembrance, the idea for the Moment was born when children touring the Nation’s Capital were asked by the Commission’s Director the meaning of Memorial Day. They responded,
“That’s the day the pool opens.”
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to take a break from their festivities on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm, and for sixty seconds observe a moment of silence, honoring all service men and women who have died for our freedom.
Before dusting off the grill or the inaugural swan dive into the public pool, remember. This Memorial Day, pause to honor our fallen heroes, thanking God for their sacrifice and for allowing us to live in the greatest nation on the earth.