Memorial Day history

Honoring the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who died in defense of the United States is why Monday, May 30th, is special. Honoring our dead has nothing to do with the commercialism and nonchalant ‘day off’ that has co-opted so many ‘holy-days’. And it is not to honor living service members nor veterans whom we thank on Veterans Day, though as a veteran I do remember both living and the dead. As the years pass, the sacrifice of many lives in past conflicts is no less a time to remember than for the generation coming of age today. More than fifteen thousand American military and contractors (many of whom were former military) were killed in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East between 9/11 and 2021’s exit from Afghanistan.

From an article published on Snopes.com, and sourced from historian research, the earliest remembrance day for war dead was held on May 1, 1865 when former slaves in Charleston, SC reburied 257 Union soldiers who had been interred in a mass grave at the former Confederate prison camp. They gave them all proper burial and then held a parade in gratitude for their service. In 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, designated May 30th as Decoration Day, placing flowers on the graves of war dead. In the 1960s, the governor of New York state, followed by President Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, New York as the original founder of Memorial day. (Whom and where the original day of remembrance began in the US is still debated.) Waterloo had been honoring war dead annually since 1866. Scholars can debate where and when Memorial Day began – there are accounts from groups in the old South that honored both Union and Confederate war dead since the 1860s, but the Federal Government established Memorial Day, with a holiday in 1971. As we in the United States enjoy gatherings or time to relax during the Memorial Day weekend, please pause to reflect on those military members who gave their all for us.

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