Memorial Day often marks the unofficial start of summer. The Holiday gives us a long weekend and the opportunity to have cookouts with friends and family, but Memorial Day has a deeper meaning and historical significance that is sometimes forgotten.
The exact origins of Memorial Day remain unknown, but the Holiday is a day of remembrance for those who have died serving America. Several different towns claim to have started the Holiday around the end of the Civil War. These separate beginnings likely occurred because of the unplanned gathering of town people to honor the lives lost during the Civil War.
According to Yale University historian David Blight's research, the first Memorial Day, or Declaration Day as it was first called, dates back to April 1865. This date marks the time a group of former slaves gathered at a Confederate prison, which used to be a horse race track, where more than 250 Union soldiers had died due to horrible conditions and disease. The former slaves dug up the soldiers' single massive grave then dug each an individual grave. A fence was then wrapped around the new grave yard and an archway was put up that said, "Martyrs of the Race Course." On May 1, 1865, an estimated 10,000 people and Union troops marched around the graveyard carrying roses, singing spiritual songs and the Star Spangled Banner.
These small town celebrations lasted for more than three years before Memorial Day became an official Holiday. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former soldiers and sailors, proclaimed May 30, 1868 Declaration Day. He said the new Holiday was meant for honoring and remembering the comrades who died defending America by decorating their graves. General James Garfield gave a speech on the first Declaration Day at Arlington National Cemetery, where 5,000 people decorated the 20,000+ graves of the entombed Union and Confederate soldiers.
According to the 2000 National Moment of Remembrance Act, at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day Americans should informally observe a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.
Today, Memorial Day celebrations remain strong at Arlington National Cemetery. Since the 1950's soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division have placed American flags at each of the graves on the Thursday before Memorial Day. During Memorial Day weekend, the cemetery is patrolled to make sure every flag is always standing up. On this Memorial Day, don't forget this part of America's rich history. Take just a minute to stop and remember those who have lost their lives fighting for the freedom we have today.
Labels: Life is Fun