Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.
A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies.
After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
Israel, my other country, did not have a memorial day as such. There was Independence Day, celebrating the country’s official nationhood … and a very somber Holocaust Day. Independence Day was the only non-religious holiday during which businesses and the government closed down.
Holocaust Day, the only thing that closed was the television and radio station which did not broadcast. The sirens blew for a full minute at 8 in the morning and again at 4 in the afternoon. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stood until the sirens stopped. Traffic stopped. Cars and trucks pulled to the roadside. Drivers got out and stood. Listened. Remembered.
Even if you were alone in your home, you stood to honor those dead who never carried a weapon and got no medals.
Official holidays become less important as we get older, but personal milestones become more meaningful. Calendar marking become more like seasonal reminders and less like a time to party.
Have a great weekend, however you celebrate. Remember those who fought … and those who died because a war happened to them.
It’s good to remember war, to hope we’ll someday stop fighting and find another way to settle our differences.