Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was created as a time to remember and honor those who have given their lives in service to the United States. Originally born out of the Civil War and the desire to remember the dead, Memorial Day was first declared on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date for Decoration Day, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the very first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and a large group of volunteers decorated the graves of some 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who are buried there. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873; by 1890 it was recognized by all northern states. Southern states refused to recognize the holiday, instead choosing other days to remember their dead. This continued until after World War I when the holiday was changed from recognizing only those lost in the Civil War to honoring those who were lost in any war.
With the Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971, Memorial Day is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend. There is a traditional method of observing the holiday with the American flag by raising the flag briskly to full-staff, then lowering it slowly and solemnly to half-staff, where it remains until noon, then it is raised to full staff again. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million who have given their lives in service to their country. At noon, then, their memory is raised by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up and continue the fight for liberty.
Other traditional observances include visiting cemeteries, wearing red poppies, and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen loved ones. Observance of Memorial Day traditions has diminished over the years and many people have forgotten the meaning of the day. The graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored or neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. To help remind us of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December 2000. It asks that at 3 p.m. local time all Americans “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”
Do you remember the real meaning behind Memorial Day? Will you take the challenge to pause at 3pm on Memorial Day and remember those who made the greatest sacrifice to secure our continued freedom? And will you accept the challenge to “rise up” and continue the fight for liberty at whatever cost?
Memorial Day is also a great time to remember the one who sacrificed all so we could have our sins be forgiven. One of the greatest freedoms that our soldiers died to preserve is the freedom of religion. Why not take advantage of that freedom right now and invite Jesus Christ into your life? Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
I will leave you with this verse for reflection: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1John 3:16)
To learn more about Memorial Day, visit www.USMemorialDay.org
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