Memorial Day is a time set aside in remembrance of men and women who fell in combat while risking their lives for their country. It is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May. It is more than a holiday. It is about gratitude.
Initially referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
In four years of fighting between the North and the South, more than more than 622,000 Americans had died. The government established national cemeteries for the Union fallen, while cemeteries were established in cities, villages and towns across the country. Mourners came to these cemeteries to decorate the graves of their fallen heroes with flowers.
Henry C. Welles, a pharmacist in Waterloo Village, N.Y., is credited with the inspiration in 1865 for what would eventually become Memorial Day, namely that, “it would be honorable and appropriate to recall the sacrifice of the patriotic dead by displaying floral tributes on the gravestones of the fallen.”
In 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance. He proclaimed, “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.”
The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller signed a proclamation on March 7, 1966, recognizing the birth of the holiday at Waterloo, N.Y. The U.S. Congress agreed when both House and Senate passed House Concurrent Resolution 587 on May 19, 1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson endorsed the designation as he similarly declared Waterloo Village the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Congress further left its mark when the holiday was no longer referred to as Decoration Day. After World War I, as the day came to be observed in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars, its name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.
Gradually, the Memorial Day designation took hold. First used in 1882, it wasn’t common vernacular until after World War II. Still, it wasn’t until 1967 that Congress asserted that Memorial Day was made the official name of the holiday.
What started as an inspiration to remember those lost in Civil War fighting is now a time to honor all American military personnel who died in all of the nation’s wars. It is about remembering. It is about honoring. It is about sacrifice. It is about gratitude.
Ladysmith News editorials are written by news staff.