What is Memorial Day?

by MAJ. GEN. PAUL E. VALLELY, US ARMY (RET) May 24, 2015
Memorial Day is a great and wonderful way to remember our patriotic heroes who sacrificed their lives to help us breathe the air of freedom. This day is observed with families and friends visiting cemeteries and memorials to pay homage to their loved and forgotten ones.
 
“Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.”
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 
Memorial Day was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. It was observed by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers during the first national celebration. Gen. James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which around 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.
 
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. This date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
 
The alternative name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington’s Birthday, now celebrated as Presidents’ Day; Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.
 
Red poppies are a tradition inspired by a poem in 1915. “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
 
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
 
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who have died serving our country. I tear at the sound of “Taps” played at ceremonies on Memorial Day: “We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them.” – Francis A. Walker.
 
I will tear up as well. We will be with our son, Scott, at his gravesite in Bigfork, Montana in memory of his service to our country. Have a fun, safe, and memorable Memorial Day weekend!
 
God Bless America and our great United States.
 
It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the VETERAN, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.


Paul E. Vallely (MG, US Army) retired in 1991 from the US Army as Deputy Commanding General, US Army, Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. General Vallely graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned in the Army in 1961 and is now Chairman of Stand Up America and the Legacy National Security Advisory Group. He with LTG Tom McInerney authored the book, "Endgame" -The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror.


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