While there are several military holidays, Memorial Day began in 1868 as a way to pay respect to those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Originally celebrated on May 30 (regardless of what day of the week it fell on), since 1971, the holiday has been celebrated on the last Monday of May.
7 Facts About Memorial Day (Source: Better Homes & Gardens)
Memorial Day Was Unofficially Started by Women
Before the Civil War ended, women’s groups gathered to decorate the graves of the soldiers who had passed away. On April 12, 1886, the Columbus Ladies Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia, announced they would dedicate one day a year to decorating graves as a way to remember fallen soldiers. This was one of many events put on by local Ladies Memorial Associations that eventually led to the federal holiday.
It Was Originally Called Decoration Day
The holiday wasn’t called Memorial Day until 1971: Before that, it was known as Decoration Day. The very first Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, as the future president James A. Garfield gave a remembrance speech to thousands of onlookers at Arlington National Cemetery. Over the years, the day began to be referred to as Memorial Day, and for consistency’s sake, it was nationally re-named in 1971.
It Wasn’t a Federal Holiday Until 1971
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which proclaimed that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday of each May and gave all federal employees the day off. But it wasn’t named an official national holiday until 1971, more than 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
Newly Freed Enslaved People Held One of the First Memorial Day Celebrations
One of the very first Memorial Day celebrations on record was held by newly freed enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1865, freed people gathered with members of the U.S. Colored Troopsto bury and honor fallen Union soldiers. A crowd of 10,000 people formed a parade around an old race track, where they sang hymns and decorated graves.
Memorial Day includes a National Moment of Remembrance
The National Moment of Remembrance Act was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The act asks all Americans to observe a national moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time on the afternoon as a Memorial Day tradition.
Flags Are to be Flown at Half-Mast Until Noon
You might think that the American flag should be flown at half-mast all day, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that the flag should be flown at half-staff “from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes.” This goes for all flags on government buildings, grounds, and naval vessels and flags flown by private citizens.
Poppies Are a Symbol of Memorial Day
Poppies have long been used to remember fallen soldiers after the bright red flowers began to bloom on World War I battlefields following the end of the war. Originally a symbol used to honor British soldiers who died in World War I, the flower also became a Memorial Day tradition in 1915 when Moina Michael, a Georgia teacher and wartime volunteer, penned the poem “We Shall Keep the Faith” as part of a campaign to make poppies a national symbol of remembrance.
On behalf of the METALCON team, wishing our metal construction community a Happy Memorial Day and may we take a few moments today to never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.