A Look at Memorial Day

By Bailey McKay


“Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners.  Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic,” Union General John A. Logan said as he called for a nationwide day of remembrance following the American Civil War. Gen. Logan’s order also included that graves should be decorated with “the choicest flowers of springtime” to honor the fallen.

A day of remembrance for those fallen in battle has been a tradition dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Actually, the first recorded public tribute to the fallen in war was in 431 B.C. when Pericles, Athenian general and statesman, delivered a speech praising the bravery, valor, and sacrifice by those killed in the Peloponnesian War.  Pericles speech has been said to be comparable to the tone of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Gen. Logan named May 30 “Decoration Day” in 1868, though today, Memorial Day lands on the last Monday of May in accordance with the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act creating a three-day weekend for all federal employees.

Though many associate Memorial Day and Veterans to be much the same holiday landing on opposing sides of the calendar year, the two couldn’t be more different.  Veteran’s Day honors those who have served bravely and still reside with us, while Memorial Day honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms.

Though it is unclear, and many towns claim to have been the birthplace for Decoration Day, it was declared in 1966 that Waterloo, New York is the federal birthplace of the holiday. Waterloo was chosen due to the community-wide celebration in which local businesses close and, along with residents, spend the day decorating soldier’s graves in remembrance.

While Waterloo is the birthplace, it is said that Gen. Logan garnered the idea from women’s groups across the South who would gather informally to decorate the graves of the passed Confederate soldiers.  The Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year in April of 1886, this decision influenced Logan, according to his wife.

Initially, Memorial Day only honored those lost in the Civil War.  After the U.S. entered World War I, the federal government began honoring all wars in the honorable holiday.  While the national holiday now encompasses all wars, many southern states still hold officially recognize a Confederate Memorial Day.

Having evolved since its inception there are still many traditions that remain the same – the decoration of the fallen graves and lowering the flag to half-mast until noon and raising it to full-mast after noon.  There are some newer traditions as well, like legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 that created the National Moment of Remembrance.  This is an event of silence to be held at 3 p.m. local time to remember those lost.

So, before you reach for that cold beverage or grilled meal that marks the unofficial start of the summer, remember those who fought valiantly and sacrificed all to make sure you could have the freedom to do so.

With that, I leave you with a poem written by Charles M. Province, who formerly served in the U.S. Army.


It is the Soldier, not the minister

Who has given us freedom of religion.


It is the Soldier, not the reporter

Who has given us freedom of the press.


It is the Soldier, not the poet

Who has given us freedom of speech.


It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer

Who has given us freedom to protest.


It is the Soldier, not the lawyer

Who has given us the right to a fair trial.


It is the Soldier, not the politician

Who has given us the right to vote.


It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,

Who serves beneath the flag,

And whose coffin is draped by the flag,

Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.


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