We will observe Memorial Day Monday.
We encourage our readers to safely attend scheduled observances and to think about the significance of the day.
Memorial Day is far more than the unofficial beginning of summer, a day off work and a day for picnics and outdoor fun.
In many ways, it is the most meaningful of our secular federal holidays.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30.
“It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
“The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.”
While many communities claim to have had the first services recognizing the war dead, including both Macon and Columbus, Ga., in 1966, the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. A ceremony in Waterloo on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says, “By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.
“It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.”
The men and women whom we regard as American heroes seldom think of themselves in those terms.
So many men and women have unselfishly sacrificed by leaving their homes, being separated from their families, putting themselves in harm’s way, and in far too many cases, dying for the cause of freedom.
Monday, we will pay tribute and remember those who made that sacrifice, defending and protecting our nation.