There is often confusion on the various days that honor the men and women of the military. Here is a brief explanation of Memorial Day and its history.
Memorial Day, traditionally observed on May 30th, but now officially observed on the last Monday of May, is the day on which those who died in active military service are remembered.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday started in the years following the Civil War. (The Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in US history and resulted in the establishment of the first national cemeteries.) Soon after the war, many towns and cities across the country began holding tributes each Spring to honor those who had perished in the war. Their graves were cleaned of Winter debris and decorated with flowers. Picnics were often held at the gravesite and prayers were said.
Gen. John A. Logan (leader of a Northern Civil War veterans group), is often attributed with being the organizer of the first Decoration Day. On May 5, 1868, he called for a nationwide day of remembrance to take place later that month. He proclaimed, "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing the flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defence of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land." He chose May 30th because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle or event during the war.
The tradition continued and by 1890, every Northern state had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. On the other hand, while Southern states honored their dead in a similar way, it was done on a different day. Even today, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi celebrate Confederate Memorial Day at the end of April, while parts of South Carolina celebrate it in the middle of May.
Memorial Day (Decoration Day) originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during WWI, the holiday evolved to commemorate all American soldiers who died in all wars.
After WWI, the red poppy became associated with Memorial Day and many people continue to wear one during the day's events. The poppy association started with a poem written by John McCrae, a surgeon who was struck by the sight of the red flowers (they are actually classified as weeds), growing on a ravaged battlefield.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971.
Typically for many Americans, Memorial Day is observed by visiting cemeteries, holding family gatherings, and participating in parades. It is also often thought of as the unofficial beginning of summer.
As my Memorial Day tribute, below are a few of the quilts I made using
In Your Debt
There is no way for us to repay you for all you did and the sacrifices you made.
Thank you seems such a shallow thing to say, but since there are no other words, Thank you and know that I am forever in your debt.
Heart and Soul
You are the heart and soul of our nation.
I will hold you in my heart forever and never forget your sacrifice.
Because of you, I have freedoms that are not enjoyed my many others. I know that freedom is not free and that you paid the ultimate price to ensure that freedom does ring for me.
Memorial Day, 2020 is different for most of us.
There are no parades or picnics to attend.
Let's not dwell on what we can not or are not doing today.
Instead, let's take this time to remember the reason for this day.
Let's remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow.