Memorial Day began after the Civil War to honor those who died in that horrible conflict. In the beginning, it was known as Remembrance Day and no one is sure which state it first occurred but in 1966 President Johnson declared Waterloo, NY to be the birthplace of the day. The first official observance happened on May 30, 1868, when General John Logan issued his General Order #11 and flowers were placed on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize Remembrance Day was New York in 1873 however, the South refused to recognize it until after WWI. This is because after WWI the holiday changed from just recognizing the Civil War dead to recognizing all who died in American Wars. To this day, the South still has separate days of recognition for their Civil War dead. Just a side note it was officially deemed to be celebrated on the last Monday of May in 1971 by Congress with the passing of the National Holiday Act of 1971 so that we could have extended Federal holiday weekends. However, the official observance is still May 30th.
Poppies are the official flower of Memorial Day as a result of Moina Micheals who wrote a poem referring to them in 1915 and began to sell them to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit those servicemen in need. This tradition spread to Europe after Madame Guerin had visited the United States and learned of this new custom. She would later approach the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for help in 1921 and in 1921 they were the first organization to sell the poppies nationally.
Over the years, the traditional ways to observe Memorial Day have fallen by the wayside. We now are more interested in parades and barbecues that truly honoring our military dead. Many cemeteries around the country have graves of servicemen and women who are ignored or neglected. This day is not for honoring all the dead as some would assume but for specifically honoring all who served in America’s Wars. Our children are not taught the importance of this day in school but instead view it as a day off.
However, I am happy to report that we do have some exceptions to this which are: the 3rd US Infantry places flags on each of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery but unfortunately they have patrol 24 hours a day to ensure that those flags remain standing. The Boy and Cub Scouts of St. Louis place flags on graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and Boy and Girl Scouts in Virginia place flags on the Graves of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. I am sure that there are countless other Boy and Girl Scout troops that do this across the country but there are not enough of them.
We must all give of our time to honor our fallen Soldiers, Airman, Sailors, and Marines on this important day. One way besides placing flags on our service members graves is to take a moment and observe the National Moment of Remembrance which is at 3 pm local time on Memorial day, Americans voluntarily and informally observe in their own way Memorial Day. Some suggestions are to pause for a moment of silence or listen to Taps. I encourage everyone to do this with their children and grandchildren and to remind them that this day is more than just a day off for a parade or barbecue. It is a day to honor all of our glorious military dead and to thank them for a job well done because we still live under a Constitution that gives us the opportunity for success every day. All this would not be possible without their service.