Remembering The Reason Behind Memorial Day

memorial day

Memorial Day has become associated with the start of summer—barbeques, pool and waterpark openings and road trips mark the three-day weekend for many Americans. But throughout the celebration, how many remember the reason for the national holiday? Memorial Day was first celebrated 145 years ago to honor soldiers lost to the Civil War. Yes, it was in May of 1868 that Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed General Order No. 11, establishing May 30 as a day of remembrance each year, dedicated to decorating the graves of fallen American soldiers. Then called Decoration Day, graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery were adorned with flowers.

That year, according to the Baltimore Sun, Gen. James Garfield—who would later become the 20th president of the United States—spoke at Arlington to honor soldiers who lost their lives during the “unfortunate civil war.

The dispatches from the North and South which have been received show that the testimony to the dead was carried out in an impressive manner. Flowers were strewn in profusion, and every token of respect and affection shown to the dead by relatives and friends,” observed the newspaper. “The impressive ceremonies were particularly carried out in Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and other cities.

By 1890 all northern states recognized the day, while southern states honored their dead on separate days until, after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring Civil War soldiers specifically to honoring all Americans who died in any war.

And so the celebration continued until 1971 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Holiday Act of 1971, which determined all federal holidays would be part of a three-day weekend.

Although Americans most certainly appreciate the three-day holiday, the time away from work has diminished the meaning of Memorial Day. Today, with the exception of a few cemeteries honored by the military and scouting organizations, many fallen soldiers’ graves have gone neglected on the holiday. Meanwhile, many Americans believe the day is to honor all the dead, rather than those who lost their lives serving their country.

In response to the lapse of proper celebration, the “National Moment of Remembrance” was passed 13 years ago. The resolution asks all Americans “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.

But do Americans observe the moment of silence? Most are too busy starting vacations or partying with family and friends. One who is likely to remember is 107-year-old Richard Overton, the oldest living American veteran. Overton lost many of his fellow soldiers during World War II. He told Fox News he plans to spend the day relaxing on his porch in Austin. At his age, Overton has seen more than his share of military members pass away. He said he would love to spend Memorial Day recounting war stories.

I know I had someone from my platoon until recently, but he passed so now I don’t have anyone that I know,” he told Fox. “So I feel lonesome by myself sometimes. I would love to ask some of them some questions, but nobody is here. Everybody’s passed.

It’s not too late to honor Overton, though, as well as the thousands of soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. While you’re barbecuing those ribs or taking the kids to the pool, try to remember why you have the three-day weekend and those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we would have the freedom to spend it as we choose.