Today in the US is the national holiday known as Memorial Day, a day on which we remember those who have died in military service to this country. On a day like this, I find that I have many questions about its origins. Memorial Day was first held after the American Civil War. The original date is questionable, because there were many individual memorial days held throughout the nation prior to a nationwide Memorial Day. One of these first memorial days was held in Columbia, Mississippi in 1866, when a group of women went to decorate the graves of Confederates who had died in battle at Shiloh. These women, moved by the sight of the bare Union soldiers’ graves, decided to decorate them as well, despite the fact that they were the “enemy.”
In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic formally established Decoration Day, a day on which American citizens would decorate the graves of those who had fallen during war. The original date was set for May 30th, most likely because it was when flowers would be in bloom across the nation. That same year, the first large observance of Decoration Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Several Washington officials, including General Ulysses S. Grant presided over the ceremony, which included a decoration of the Arlington mansion, a home to General Robert E. Lee.
President Lyndon Johnson, in 1966, declared that Waterloo, NY was the original location of Memorial Day services. On May 5, 1866, the businesses of Waterloo were closed and all residents of the town flew flags at half-staff to remember the dead Civil War soldiers from the town. By the late 1800s, May 30th was regarded as the national date for Memorial Day, and the day was eventually adopted by state legislatures and the Army and Navy as a day dedicated to honoring the dead. In 1971, Memorial Day was made a national holiday through an act of Congress, and was given the designated date of the last Monday of May.
“The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: ‘It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.'”