Remember the meaning of Memorial Day
May 22, 2012 — Memorial Day is supposed to be a solemn day of mourning, a sacred day of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.
Businesses closed for the day. Towns held parades honoring the fallen, which often ended at a local cemetery, where Memorial Day speeches were given and prayers were offered up.
People took the time that day to clean and decorate with flowers and flags the graves of those that fell in service to their country.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with more than 25 cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.
While President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y. the birthplace of Memorial Day in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
It is more probable it had several separate beginnings.
Many towns likely planned or spontaneously gathered to honor those who died in war and each event contributed to the growing movement that culminated in General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, giving an official proclamation in May 1868.
It is really not important who was the first to establish the holiday, what is important is Memorial Day was in fact established and people came together to honor those who gave their all.
The first official Memorial Day is thought to have been observed May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
By 1890 Memorial Day was recognized by all of the northern states.
The South refused to acknowledge the day, however, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war.
Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971) to ensure a three-day weekend for federal holidays.
Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of the holiday.
At local cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember or never learned proper flag etiquette for the day.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000.
It asks that at 3 p.m. local time all Americans voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a few minutes of silence or to listen to Taps — a musical piece played on bugle or trumpet during flag ceremonies, at funerals (particularly by the U.S. military), and often at Boy Scout and Girl Scout/Guide meetings and camps.
While many feel The Moment of Remembrance is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day, what may be needed to bring back the solemn, sacred spirit to Memorial Day is to go back it its traditional day of observance.
Consensus is that when Congress made Memorial Day into a three-day weekend with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day.
As the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
In March 1999 Senator Daniel K. Inouye (HI) introduced a bill to the Senate that called for the restoration of the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30.
Every new Congress since then (every two years), Inouye has faithfully re-introduced the bill. Several times a companion bill was introduced to the House.
In the introductory remarks the bill states, “in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer.”
Inouye went on to write that the bill would “restore Memorial Day to May 30 and authorize our flag to fly at half mast on that day.
In addition, this legislation would authorize the President to issue a proclamation designating Memorial Day and Veterans Day as days for prayer and ceremonies honoring American veterans.
This legislation would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our nation.”
Every Congress, Inouye again re-introduces the bill (S. 70), most recently in 2011. As of today, this bill is in the first stage of the legislative process and no further action has been taken on this bill.
More information about and ways to support the bill can be found online: search Inouye.
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