CHARLOTTE, NC: Since 1868 Memorial Day observations include placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. “For love of country they accepted death,” said Gen. James Garfield. Garfield, who later became the 20th president of the United States, was speaking at Arlington National Cemetery three years after the Civil War came to an end.
After Garfield’s comments, approximately 5,000 participants would help decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.
Originally known as “Decoration Day” because of the practice of placing flowers on soldier’s graves, the south refused to honor the dead until after World War I when the meaning of the remembrance was changed to honor Americans who perished while fighting in any war.
For more than a century, from 1868 until 1970, the federal holiday was observed on May 30, the approximate time of year when flowers began to bloom throughout the country. As such, Memorial Day is regarded as the unofficial start of summer.
Since 1971, when Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday, the observance has taken place on the last Monday in May with New York being the first state to officially recognize the holiday.
One interesting, and unusual. feature of Memorial Day is displaying the flag. The flag should fly at half-mast only until noon, before rising to the top of the staff.
Inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, written in May 1915 by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae as a tribute to his close friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, Moina Michael replied with a poem of her own.
Michael was an American professor and humanitarian who conceived the idea of using poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in World War I.
She was the first person to wear a poppy, and later sold them to friends and co-workers using the proceeds to benefit servicemen in need.
“We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.”
In the late 1950s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, around 1200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry placed small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. During the holiday weekend they then patrol the grounds 24 hours a day to ensure that each flag remains standing.
In a similar ritual, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in 1951 as an annual “good turn,” a practice that continues to this day.
More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before Memorial Day, Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of the approximately 15,300 grave sites of heroes buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye’s Heights.
Flowers and flags are the two most popular items people use to remember soldiers.
Another Memorial Day tradition, which is also relatively recent, takes place at 3 pm on the holiday. At this time, all Americans informally observe a moment of silence and respect for those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The National Moment of Remembrance Resolution was passed in 2000. Four years later, in 2004, the first Memorial Day parade was held in Washington D.C. Today, red Poppies are the Memorial Day flower and Taps is usually a part of Memorial Day ceremonies.
Concluding our look at interesting facts about Memorial Day, we post two poignant and powerful quotes:
The first belongs to Thomas Campbell who said,
“The patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree.”
And, as Schuyler Colfax reminds us,
“These martyrs of patriotism gave their lives for an idea.”
As the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” get underway this weekend, if you encounter a veteran, take a moment to thank him for his service. You may be surprised at how much it is appreciated.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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