May 25, 2012
By George Sava
On May 5, 1868, when General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed Memorial Day as a day of remembrance for those who died in the Civil War, he stated that, “[L]et no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” Thereafter, May 30th was deemed a solemn day of mourning, of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price, that last full measure of devotion.
The tradition began in part due to a group of Southern women who took it upon themselves to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. In fact, many individuals from around the nation decorated the graves of their loved ones each year. The day was originally known as “Decoration Day.”
In 1873, New York became the first state in the Union to officially recognize Memorial Day as a holiday. By 1890, all the former Northern States had officially recognized the Memorial Day holiday as well. By World War I, after the holiday was changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War, to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war, it was adopted by all states.
According to www.usmemorialday.org, on May 30th of each year, along with the closing of businesses, “[T]owns held parades honoring the fallen, the parade routes often times [sic] ending at a local cemetery, where Memorial Day speeches were given and prayers offered up. People took the time that day to clean and decorate with flowers and flags the graves of those the [sic] fell in service to their country.”
The Uniform Holiday Act which took effect on January 1, 1971, established the observance of Memorial Day on the last Monday in the month of May. According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
To many, since the adoption of the Uniform Holiday Act, Memorial Day has come to mean simply the unofficial beginning of summer, a time to relax or vacation during an extended weekend. “Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day,” according to www.usmemorialday.org.
The above reminds me of a quote by Cynthia Ozick, “[W]e often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” Now, I realize that we lead busy lives and that many times a day off is nothing more than an opportunity to catch our breaths. Still, it is important to remember, to honor, and to thank those who have stood before and surrendered their youth, their innocence and their lives in defense of our nation. Whether you attend a parade, post a flag or simply say a prayer, I ask that all of us take a moment this weekend to remember.
To those in our community that grieve the loss of a loved one who gave their life in defense of freedom, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my deepest respect and gratitude for their service and the freedom we enjoy as a result of their sacrifice. “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.” President Abraham Lincoln, November 24, 1864.
About the Author: