Remembering Why We Observe Memorial Day

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

- James A. Garfield

May 30, 1868 Arlington National Cemetery

We may have forgotten the true meaning of observing Memorial Day since it has become so commercialized. It's an important day of observance, originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags. Memorial Day is a day for remembrance of those who have lost their lives in service to our country.

It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers.

During that first national commemoration, former Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.

Memorial Day is commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery each year with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

If you're unsure of how you personally can observe Memorial Day respectfully, here's some suggestions:

  • By wearing your Memorial Day Button from the first of May until Memorial Day.

  • By acknowledging the family members of those who have lost loved ones

  • By visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.

  • By flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon. Memorial Day is a day of "National Mourning."

  • By attending religious services of your choice.

  • By visiting memorials.

  • By participating in a "National Moment of Remembrance" at 3:00 PM local time, to pause and think upon the meaning of the day and for taps to be played where possible.

  • By renewing a pledge to aid the widows, and orphans of our fallen dead, and to aid the disabled veterans.

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