Homeland Security

Memorial Day: A Day to remember the brave men and women who died fighting for the United States of America
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Jun , 2024

Every year, the last Monday of May is commomerated as Memorial Day in the United States. It is a solemn day to remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives for the United States of America. Memorial Day is also considered the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States.

Memorial Day: A Historical Journey 

The roots of Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, can be traced to the American Civil War – the deadliest conflict in American history, which resulted in the death of more than 620,000 soldiers representing roughly 2% of the entire U.S. population at the time. After the war communities across the United States began to pay homage to the fallen soldiers, reciting prayers and decorating their graves with flowers.

The first official Decoration Day was observed on May 30th 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C. at the behest of General John A. Logan who issued a proclamation calling for a nation-wide day dedicated to decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. This tradition of adorning graves with flowers rapidly spread throughout the United States, solidifying itself as a national act of remembrance. Decoration Day became a national tradition by the late 1800s. The tradition of decorating graves quickly spread throughout the United States. By the late 19th century, many states officially declared Decoration Day a holiday.

Though initially Decoration Day largely remained a day to remember the heroes of the American Civil War, things changed after World War I (1914-1918), when a big public movement sprang up demanding broadening the scope of this day of remembrance. It aimed to encompass all American military personnel who died in service to their country in war or peace irrespective of the operation. Thus, it came to be a day of national remembrance to express gratitude and reflect on the sacrifices made by the military personnel.

The date May 30th was chosen strategically in the post-spring planting season, when flowers bloom across the United States of America. In due course the name Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day and instead of 30 May it came to be observed on the last Monday of May. 

The Evolution of a National Holiday

In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act marked a significant turning point. It officially established Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, solidifying its position as a national holiday. This act ensured a dedicated day for the nation to collectively honour fallen heroes from all wars. Memorial Day was officially recognized as a federal holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. Memorial Day is today a day when America solemnly acknowledges and remembers the cost paid by its military personnel and their families and expresses gratitude for their sacrifice. 

Memorial Day: Traditions

Memorial Day observances have evolved over time, taking on various forms, each contributing to a collective expression of gratitude and respect. These include the laying of wreaths at monuments and cemeteries, parades featuring veterans and military units, and moments of silence. One of the most iconic Memorial Day traditions is the National Moment of Remembrance, observed at 3:00 PM local time (since 2000) when Americans are encouraged to pause for a moment of silence to honour the fallen. During this solemn pause, Americans are encouraged to reflect on the meaning of the day, fostering a sense of national unity as they remember the fallen.

Another prominent Memorial Day event takes place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where the President of the United States typically lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This solemn ceremony is attended by military officials, veterans, and families of the fallen, and it serves as a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by countless service members.

In addition to these thousands of families, veterans, and community members offer prayers, place flags and lay wreaths on graves at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. In several towns and cities Americans march down main streets in parades, featuring veterans, active-duty military personnel, and patriotic floats. Schools and local organizations host educational programs, to teach the younger generations about the significance of Memorial Day and the history of the sacrifices made.

Many communities host parades on Memorial Day. Local veterans’ groups, marching bands, and active-duty service members participate, creating a sense of unity and pride. Additionally, many towns hold official ceremonies featuring speeches, music, and the solemn reading of names of the fallen. These public events ensure the stories of these heroes are not forgotten.

The poppy, a symbol of remembrance stemming from the poem “In Flanders Fields,” features prominently on Memorial Day. On the Friday before Memorial Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars holds a national ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery where a poppy wreath is placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Though not directly connected to honouring the fallen, family gatherings and barbecues have become a popular way to spend Memorial Day weekend. These social gatherings offer a time for families to connect and reflect on the freedoms secured by those who served.

True Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day goes beyond mere tradition. It’s a day to confront the true cost of freedom and express profound gratitude to those who paid the ultimate price. It’s a day for critical reflection on the human cost of war and peace.

A Lasting Legacy: To remember, not to forget

Memorial Day holds a unique place in American culture. It reminds us of the fragility of peace and the enduring cost of freedom. It’s not just a day for cookouts and backyard barbecues, but a day for solemn remembrance and a rededication to the values those who served so valiantly fought to protect. It’s a historical journey that continues, year after year, ensuring that the sacrifices of the fallen heroes are never forgotten.

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