Memorial Day is a sacred day for our country, and it holds particular significance for many of our fellow Americans. A widow might pause to recall the moment she realized why the servicemembers had come to her door, a father might sit at a quiet piano where his daughter used to play, and a child might make a poppy poster in honor of a grandparent.
But even if you don’t have a loved one to remember, every person in the United States is affected by the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our country. Memorial Day is a time for all of us to take a step back and honor these lives through remembrance.
One way to honor these soldiers is to learn more about their sacrifice and participate in the traditions surrounding Memorial Day. The infographic below includes some information we hope you find compelling.
The Beginnings – Decoration Day
In early May of 1868, Civil War veteran General John A. Morgan declared that May 30th should be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of 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.”
Though many Civil War remembrances had been previously observed, Memorial Day, known as “Decoration Day” at the time, was first celebrated that same month with a ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery. There, General James Garfield gave a speech about the holiday’s significance and about 5,000 people participated in decorating all 20,000 graves of fallen Confederate and Union soldiers.
Originally, this day specifically honored those who had died in the Civil War, but after WWI, soldiers who died in any war were recognized. Even though this tradition has been in place since 1868, Memorial Day was not officially declared a national holiday until 1971. It is now observed on the last Monday in May.
New Traditions: Going Beyond the Backyard BBQ
Since Memorial Day is a national holiday, most schools and many workplaces have a three-day weekend for their students and employees. Thousands of families gather to usher in the summer season with a good barbecue. (And don’t forget the mattress sales and other flashy commercial events.)
But as fun as this family (and shopping) time is, many organizations worry that this is exactly what Memorial Day has become for many Americans. So in the spirit of never forgetting our fallen heroes, here are some other ways to show respect:
- Visit a Veterans’ Cemetery or the Grave of a Veteran – Bring flowers, flags, or other significant items, and consider helping beautify the area by clearing away stray leaves or dirt or volunteering to help pull weeds. As specified in the infographic, leaving different coins at a fallen soldier’s grave traditionally signifies who has visited.
- Wear a Red Poppy – To honor those who have died, many wear a red poppy on their clothing. This tradition was started in 1915 by poet Moina Michael, who wrote: “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.”
- Pause for a Moment of Silence – In 2000, a congressional resolution officially designated 3pm on Memorial day as a National Moment of Remembrance. Join the country in taking a moment to respect our fallen servicemembers.
- Visit a Battlefield or Memorial – There are dozens of national battlefields and memorials honoring fallen soldiers and the places where they gave their lives to keep our country united and free.
- Fly the American Flag – If your flag is on a flagpole, make sure to keep it at half-mast until noon. Or, if you have a mounted flag and it cannot be lowered, you can alternatively tie a black ribbon just under the ornament at the end of the pole. The ribbon should be the same width as the stripes on the flag and the same length as the flag.
- Learn More about Past Wars and Battles – It might not be possible to travel to a battlefield, but you can read or watch a movie about one in your own home. There are several books, movies, podcasts, and documentaries you can use to learn about or remember different conflicts and experiences.
- Volunteer to Help Veterans – A wonderful way to honor fallen military heroes is to volunteer. You can find groups that work to help disabled or injured veterans as well as those that focus on the families of current or deceased servicemembers.
Memorial Day Events Worth Experiencing
There are many Memorial Day events that you and your loved ones may want to be a part of. Here are just a few:
- National Memorial Day Concert – On the eve of Memorial Day, this free concert is held outside the White House to honor military servicemembers. It is one of PBS’ highest-rated programs, with a lineup including performers and groups like Charles Esten, Leona Lewis, the Soldiers’ Chorus, and the National Symphony Orchestra.
- National Memorial Day Parade – The American Veterans Center presents this parade every year in Washington, DC, honoring military servicemembers that have served throughout all of US history. You can stream the parade live on either YouTube or Military.com.
- Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally – The Sunday before Memorial Day, hundreds of thousands of bikers ride through Washington D.C. in honor of Vietnam War POWs and MIAs.
- National Memorial Day Choral Festival – This annual concert includes a large choir that performs with the U.S. Air Force Orchestra.
Remember that there are also smaller Memorial Day events. Check out one of the other big ones—like the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade or the Chicago Memorial Day Parade—or research what’s happening in your area to find one near you.
How Will You Remember?
In 1868, General Logan said, “Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
This Memorial Day, may we choose above all else to honor fallen US troops. How will you choose to remember the “cost of a free and undivided republic” this year? Tell us about your plans by commenting below or visiting one of our social media accounts and commenting on our Memorial Day post.