Memorial Day is not about division; it is about reconciliation. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to the originals of Memorial Day, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings, each city planning a gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's. They tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement.
This culminated in General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, giving his official proclamation in 1868, General Order No. 11, first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873.
By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states.
The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
Memorial Day is currently a national holiday celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May. A law passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act, P.L. 90, 363, in 1971 to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays.
Several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Moina Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women.
This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help.
Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy" Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Moina Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
Since the late 1950's, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
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