Here’s your obligatory reminder that Memorial Day is not about summer, vacations, grilling or an extra day off work.
It’s actually a day of remembrance that stems from collective mourning after the Civil War claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans. After the Civil War, many communities found ways to commemorate their dead locally. President Lyndon Johnson tried to settle the debate over which city was the birthplace of Memorial Day by bestowing the honor on Waterloo, New York.
It was in 1868 that Gen. John Logan officially designated May 30 of that year as Decoration Day, meant to honor the Union Army’s dead. Southern states marked a separate day for their war dead until after World War I.
“The 30th day 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 church-yard in the land,” Logan wrote.
Arlington National Cemetery, a resting place for both Union and Confederate soldiers, became a focal point of national commemoration. Future president and then-Gen. James Garfield delivered an address. Today, volunteers still place American flags on the graves.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Congress designated the holiday as we know it today, to be celebrated on the last Monday in May. What you might not know is that in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which designates 3 p.m. on Memorial Day as a moment of silence.
So while you’re enjoying your unofficial start of summer, please also take a moment to remember the 1.2 million Americans who have died in war. It’s the right thing to do.