By Sandy Parks
This act “encourages people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.” Why do we need reminding? Are our newer generations forgetting how we’ve been able to keep our freedoms?
The truth is, whether older or newer generations, as soon as we settle into a comfortable life, we often forget about those who have fought on home soil or around the world for our beliefs. Back in 1918, my great-grandfather Lincoln Hubbard, a lawyer (and judge), wrote this in an essay while America was embroiled overseas in World War I: “If your nostrils have become so accustomed to the sweet air of liberty that you no longer appreciate it, if you have come to regard true equality before the law as commonplace, you have also forgotten the MEANING OF AMERICA.” Right on great-grandpa!
Ever wonder why newspapers and radio stations suggest a pause at 3pm on Memorial Day? The National Remembrance Act asked for a minute of silence at that hour to honor those who died in service to the nation. The Veterans of Foreign Wars also suggests that the flag should be flown at half-staff during morning hours, and at noon brought back to full staff.
Now let’s hit some of the historical details to uncover a few other common ways we celebrate today. Although there appears to have been many smaller local and even state events in 1866 and on, where women and children decorated graves of the fallen and covered them in flowers, the first official national day was celebrated on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. May 30 was chosen because the Union Veterans who set it up believed flowers would be in bloom everywhere in the nation (tell that to people up north who had snow fall this weekend). They draped in black General Lee’s former mansion (which had become part of the cemetery) and graced all the graves of soldiers from both sides of the Civil War with flowers. In the early years and even today, the remembrance is also called DECORATION DAY, the name my mom claimed her family called it when she was young.
On a side note, through the ages there must have been quite some “claim to fame” as the first place to celebrate Memorial Day, because I discovered in 1966 Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of the remembrance.
As our country became involved in more wars (particularly with WWI), the day was expanded to honor all who had died in American wars. But when did we start getting the day off? Congress passed an act in 1971 calling for a national holiday. They placed it on the last Monday in May (most federal holidays are on Monday). On the average from the first national Memorial Day celebration at Arlington National Cemetery to today, about 5,000 people attend each year. Today small flags are placed on each grave.
Why do many towns and cities have parades and why did those come about? Tradition. President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln had just died) decided to honor those who served and died in the Civil War. On a morning in May 1865, soldiers marched through Washington DC to show their support.
So don’t forget:
- Fly flags at half staff until noon
- Take a minute of silence at 3pm
- Flowers and/or flags on veterans’ graves
- Take in a parade if your local area has one
- And find a special way to honor the memory of those who have died in service to the nation