Decoration Day started after the Civil War for families and friends to visit their loved one’s graves and decorate them in flowers, wreaths and flags. It was first widely observed on May 30th, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers lost. Former Union General and Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington Nation Cemetery for the commemoration. After the speech, 5,000 people helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 soldiers buried there.
As time went on, the observance slowly changed to Memorial Day, though it was still celebrated on May 30th regardless of the weekday. Decoration Day did not officially become Memorial Day until the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968. By 1971 Memorial Day had been officially observed on the last Monday in May, though it took a bit longer for every state to recognize the new date.
Each year on Memorial Day Americans pause to remember and honor the fallen and their sacrifices. The president or vice president will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually with a ceremony for a small American flag to be placed on each grave.
For many, Memorial Day is a Monday off from work. It’s a time to get together with friends and family. We grill burgers and have pool parties, BBQ and sit around the fire with hot dogs and s’mores. Most of us take the day to enjoy it, to relax or have fun. We go to the lake and stay on the water or take the extra day to get some house projects finished. Some people are alone, others can’t get people to go away.
Most of us have been raised with a deep, unwavering love for our country, for our flag. We thank soldiers we see in uniform. We thank retired military in their hats for everything they have done, everything they sacrificed. We hear the stories our families tell of our aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, sometimes even our own parents, who served. We hear the stories, we look through the photo albums, sometimes we even go to the grave sights and hang a flag or a flower as a way to show we remember them.
That’s what Memorial Day is for. To remember loved ones lost. To remember the stories of those gone and keep them alive in our hearts. To visit the graves of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and leave a flag. To pray for the families who have recently lost someone, and those who are still healing from a long-ago loss. To remember that not everyone makes it home. Any soldier who has passed for any reason, whether it was in battle or a long illness, is hard for everyone involved. We recognize that and think of it longer than we might normally do.
So, while we safely enjoy our Monday off with everyone we love and care for around us to unofficially mark the beginning of the summer months, remember. If we can’t visit the graves of those brave soldiers who gave everything, if we can’t call a loved one or be with them, remember them. Join the rest of the country in a moment of silence at 3 o’clock. Pause for just a minute and thank God for your freedom which cost so many everything.
-Ariel Hall, Sterlington Teller