The last Monday in May is designated as Memorial Day, a federal holiday creating a three-day weekend which signifies the unofficial beginning of summer, a day off work and school, and most likely a huge sale at Art Van. More importantly, Memorial Day was established as a day to honor those who died while serving in the armed forces.
Memorial Day was first observed to commemorate the soldiers who died during the American Civil War. Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. Many cities and towns in America claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day because of the historic tradition of decorating graves with wreaths, flowers, and flags. On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, General John Logan issued General Order No. 11 which officially established May 30th as Decoration Day: “The 30th of May, 1868, is 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.” The first national celebration of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868 when General James Garfield and General Ulysses Grant gave speeches at Arlington National Cemetery. Over 5000 people in attendance decorated the graves of the civil war soldiers buried there. Michigan established Decoration Day as an official state holiday in 1871.
The name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day and recognition of the holiday became more common after World War II, honoring all those who died serving in the military. In 1971, the National Holiday Act established Memorial Day as a national holiday and the day was moved from the traditional May 30th date to the last Monday in May pursuant to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. While Memorial Day commemorates those who died while serving in the armed forces, Veterans Day, November 11th, honors those who have served in the U.S. military.
In 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Act was signed designating 3:00 PM on Memorial Day as a time to pause in our enjoyments of our freedoms and remember those who died serving our country. Reflecting on the following quote from Benjamin Harrison would be a suggestion for participating in the National Moment of Remembrance on May 25th: “I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did.”