Waterloo, New York, was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966. The holiday had many origins, and most likely came about because many towns planned celebrations and honorariums for their war dead during the Civil War conflict. The first official proclamation is attributed to Gen John A. Logan, who issued a proclamation on May 5, 1868.
The first official day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, making today the 146th anniversary of the first official day of remembrance. On that first ‘Decorating Day,’ flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1873, the state of New York was the first to declare it a holiday and by 1890 ‘Decorating Day’ was recognized across the northern states. However, the southern states would not recognize the day as an official day of remembrance until after World War I and it became known as Memorial Day. It was then that the day changed from honoring only the fallen Civil War combatants to all Americans who gave their lives in any armed war conflict.
Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May as designated by Congress, with the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971, which ensured a three day weekend and made it a Federal holiday. To this day, some southern states have adopted a separate day for honoring Confederate war dead: Jan. 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.
Moina Michael, after being inspired by the poem ‘Flanders Field’ conceived the idea that a way to show reverence for the fallen was to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She convinced friends and coworkers and began selling poppies with the proceeds going to benefit service men and women in need. The tradition caught on around the US and then in France and by 1921, the tradition had spread to other countries.
According to www.usmemorialday.org, “Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, 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 on Marye’s Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years. “
Take a moment today to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of the United States, to protect its rights and freedoms.