Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer. The three-day weekend is chalk full of barbecues, parades, super sales and pool and water park openings. But, what is it, truly, that we are celebrating? Many people don’t know that the day is set aside for remembering and memorializing American servicemen and women that have been killed in American wars. But, there is so much more to the story. Here are several facts about Memorial Day you may not know:
- Civil War origins – The late spring remembrance to American war dead began in the aftermath of the Civil War. Originally called Decoration Day, it was an informal commemoration of the roughly 620,000 soldiers killed during the Civil War.
- Freed American slaves organized earliest commemorations – On May 1, 1865, black US soldiers, including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, gathered in Charleston, South Carolina at a new burial for Union dead. They distributed flowers and sang hymns.
- Official holiday founded in May 1868 – General John A. Logan, who was commander of a Union veterans’ group called the Grand Army of the Republic, decreed that May 30 would become a nationwide day of commemoration.
- Did not become a federal holiday until 1971 – After General Logan decreed a national day in 1868, more than 27 states adopted some form of commemoration. By 1890, every state had adopted it, but the day still only recognized Civil War dead. After our entry into World War I, the holiday was expanded to include those killed in all wars. But it wasn’t until 1971, when the U.S. was 6 years deep into the Vietnam War, for Memorial Day became the federal holiday set aside on the last Monday of May that we know it as now.
- Many have lobbied for it to return to May 30 – Many Veterans groups that American do not use the day for its intended purpose, but instead associate it with the first long weekend of the summer. They argue that returning the commemoration back to May 30, regardless of the day of the week would return the significance to honoring war dead.
- Memorial Day traditions and practices – On Memorial Day, the American flag should be hung at half-staff until 12:00 noon, and then raised to the top. In 2000 Congress passed a resolution that suggested Americans should pause at 3:00 pm local time to offer a National Moment of Remembrance.
- Who is included in a Federal Holiday – A Federal holiday, like Memorial Day, technically only applies to Federal employees and those in the District of Columbia. However, many of the 11 federal holidays, Memorial Day included, are observed by all 50 states and many businesses.
This Memorial Day, as you’re having barbecues and parades, pause for a few moments to remember those American servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Happy Memorial Day from our team and Knit-Rite and Therafirm.