Flags on Graves For Memorial Day

The History Of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday in May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. Originally called Decoration Day, after the tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.

In the weeks prior, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic had declared May 30 as the official date to decorate the graves of the war dead. It is believed this date was chosen to ensure flowers would be in bloom all over the country. During the first national commemoration, former Union General and Ohio Congressman James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. 5,000 participants helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

Though this marked the first national commemoration, local springtime tributes to fallen Civil War soldiers had been held in various places. Several towns throughout the United States claim to have begun the tradition. One such town is Columbus, Mississippi, where the story goes that a group of local women visited a local cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the war. Disturbed by the bare graves of neighboring Union soldiers, they proceeded to decorate their graves with flowers as well. A stone in Carbondale, Illinois cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Other towns, from both sides of the conflict, claim to have held the first Decoration Day.

Despite these claims and the uncertainty surrounding when the tradition began, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo, which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, was chosen as the official representative because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents took the day off to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 nationwide, with state legislatures passing proclamations designating the day as an official holiday.

It wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress and the day was changed to always land on the last Monday of May, regardless of the date. Originally, the day was only meant to honor those lost during the Civil War. World War I, however, led to the evolution of the holiday to include American military personnel who died in all American wars. This includes World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, Korean War, and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, Memorial Day is commemorated nationwide each year. At Arlington National Cemetery, a ceremony is held in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This year, Memorial Day falls on May 30, 2022. Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial will be hosting its annual ceremony at the memorial from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. This year, the memorial is honoring Major Megan McClung of the United States Marine Corps. McClung was the first female Marine officer to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was also the first female graduate of the United States Naval Academy to be killed in action since the school’s founding in 1845.

The ceremony will feature keynote speaker Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, US Army, Ret. As a Brigade Combat Team Commander in Iraq, he is credited with fostering the Sunni Arab “Awakening” movement and commanded coalition forces in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from 2015-2016. Parking for the event is available at the Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church and French American School. Complimentary trolley service is provided.

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