Our current-day Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day. Because the Civil War claimed so many lives, Americans began commemorating the veterans who died in the war by decorating their grave stones with wreaths or flowers. The first official Decoration Day is credited to Waterloo, NY when in the spring of 1865 residents chose the day on May 5, 1866 to honor fallen veterans in a town event in which businesses closed and grave stones were decorated with flowers and flags.
The ceremony was repeated the next year and other local towns began doing the same. The date of observance was moved to May 30th when retired Major General Logan proclaimed: “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 and during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
The Evolution of a Holiday
In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died in previous wars were honored as well. In the northern United States, it was designated a public holiday. In 1971, along with other holidays, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday. While many people make visiting cemeteries and placing flowers on veterans’ grave stones a part of their Memorial Day tradition, other customs have been added over the years. Veterans march and are honored in patriotic parades across the nation.
- Since the late 1950’s (on the Thursday before Memorial Day) soldiers place American flags at each of the more than 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia. In order to ensure that each flag remains upright up to and including the holiday, they patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day.
- Have you ever wondered why so many folks wear red poppy corsages around this holiday? It began in 1918 when teacher Moina Michael wanted to establish an emblem of remembrance that would be worn to commemorate the holiday. She conceived the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day after reading Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s war poem, In Flanders Field. She was the first to wear one and then sold poppies to her friends, donating the proceeds to benefit servicemen in need.
- Beginning 1998 and held on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
War Memorials Then and Now
Originally, War Memorials were erected to commemorate great victories, and the human sacrifices made during the war were not mentioned or of concern when they were created. Monuments to our fallen comrades have long been a tradition in the United States where the intent of the memorial is not to glorify war, but to honor those who have died during the battles.
In the United States today organizations and citizens rally and raise funds the build these memorials. Programs such as HeroScaping™, (launched in 2012 by the 4th generation owned American company EP Henry) donates hardscaping products to help communities build monuments in their towns of cities. Often, local contractors donate their time and skills to the installation of these HeroScaping projects.
To learn more about the Heroscaping program visit: www.ephenry.com/why-ephenry/heroscaping.