Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day, how will you commemorate?

Most of us will be fortunate enough to have an extended weekend, three long sunny days to bask in the warm sunshine and cool breezes. Maybe at the beach, the calm lakeshore or in your own backyard. A nice long weekend to relax, hang with family, friends, have barbeques and pool parties. But why? What or who is it that we are memorializing? As a generalization most of us have an understanding of what Memorial Day is. A day set aside to commemorate US Soldiers who gave their lives in more than a dozen major wars and so many others most of us can't even name. In some parts of the country commemorations continue to take place but the reason for our Monday off goes mostly unquestioned. Even Washington, D.C. took a 60 year break from hosting a Memorial Day Parade. So to remind us what this Monday is about or hopefully even cast a little light on this holiday here's a bit of Memorial Day history.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. Close to the end of the Civil War organized groups of women in the south began decorating the graves of Confederate Soldiers as tribute. Families would also congregate at the burial sites of their recently deceased and have a potluck on the grass. The "First Decoration Day" is said to have been in Charleston, South Carolina on the 1st of May, 1865. On this day almost ten thousand people gathered at the Charleston Race Course to commemorate the more than 250 Union Soldiers who perished on these grounds when they were held as prisoners of war. Most of the attendees were Freedmen, freed slaves, who wanted to commemorate the Union Soldiers who died and were buried in a mass grave on the grounds. Decoration Day was observed nationwide for the first time on May 30, 1868 after a proclamation issued by General John A. Logan, then Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. The first use of Memorial Day wasn't until 1882 and it didn't gain popularity until after World War II. In 1967 Memorial Day was declared as the official name by Federal law. The day of remembrance became a 3-day weekend on June 28, 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which served to move Memorial Day and four other Federal holidays to a specified Monday to create a three-day weekend. Some feel that this is the point in history where the observation of Memorial Day shifted from a national day of remembrance to a marker for the start of summer making it more of a national day of BBQs. Still there are wonderful events that take place each year and serve as a reminder. Since 1951 the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis have been gathering at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and placing flags on each and every one of the 150,000 graves. For about as long every Thursday before Memorial Day 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place flags at every single one of the 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery and patrol the site the entire weekend to make sure that all the flags remain standing.

Whether you celebrate the holiday hanging poolside, at a family barbeque or at the beach listening to some good tunes, take a moment to remember and honor the men and women that fought for our freedom and in turn our free day.

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