History & Mythology

Memorial Day in the United States – Honoring Soldiers and Tradition

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer season in our country, with the three-day extended weekend kicking off travel and observance rituals all over the country. In enjoying all the retail sales, barbecues, and vacations, it’s easy to forget the actual meaning of the holiday.

The first Memorial Day was recognized in 1866, when the town of Waterloo, New York decided to formally recognize soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. On that day, the city businesses closed, and the residents decorated the soldiers’ graves. It was a local event, but similar days were being organized in both the North and South.

Congress declared the last Monday in May as the national Memorial Day back in 1971, honoring fallen U.S. veterans. You’re likely to see commemorative ceremonies at local cemeteries and notice the lines of American flags fluttering. In addition to military graves, many also decorate family graves, taking time to clean and preserve the gravesites, adding flowers and wreaths.

Although flowers are a common way to honor those who have passed, there are longer-lasting and lovely ways to preserve their memory. Consider using art to create your own special places to remember someone. Mosaic designs are suitable for indoor or outdoor use and can add a great depth of meaning to a public or private memorial.

Here, outlined against the background of an American flag, a flying eagle can honor any veteran.

Did you know that the early celebrations of Memorial Day didn’t always have a set date? The first observance of a Northern Decoration Day was proclaimed May 30, 1866. There are differing stories on why this particular day was chosen. One says that it was a date that was not associated with any previous wars. More recently, the White House stated that it was chosen because of the proliferation of flowers that were available to decorate cemeteries.

Thousands of Parades

Parades often mark Memorial Day celebrations. The longest-running in the United States is in Doylestown, PA. They’ve held an annual parade since 1868 – and it’s a source of pride. The Bucks County town is one that is filled with history, and home of a number of Civil War and other museums.

Image from BikeandrollDC.com

The National Memorial Day Parade is an impressive, stirring march that will follow a route along Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. It’s organized by the National Veterans Center, citing the purpose for the event as “To call attention to the true meaning of the holiday – honoring our fallen heroes. Each year, throughout its television broadcast, the parade features personal stories of men and women who lost their lives in service to America – a reminder of the price of our freedom.”

This year’s parade will recognize the 75th Anniversary of D-Day: The day that Allied forces stormed the beaches and parachuted into Normandy, France during WWII.

Poppies for Remembrance

Image from creativecirclemedia.com

The American Legion also holds an annual Poppy Day to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend activities. They voted in 1920 to use the flower as the official U.S. national emblem of remembrance. This symbol, which is shared by other countries who were involved in WWI, is still poignant and appropriate.

Other Traditions

In addition to parades, the annual Presidential Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will occur in Arlington, VA. This monument is dedicated to deceased U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified.

Image from wikipedia.com

This monument has been guarded round-the-clock by a special platoon within in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment since 1948. The first 24-hour guard was posted on midnight, July 2, 1937. The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since that time. Inclement weather, terrorist attacks, et cetera, do not cause the watch to cease.

Across the country, there will be plenty of other events to honor first responders, veterans, and anyone who has fallen in the line of duty. Organizations like Carry the Load will be on walking marathons, and there will be military band concerts held in Washington D.C. The National Parade and other celebrations will be broadcast live.

No matter how you enjoy your holiday, take time to remember those who are our country’s fallen heroes. They’re the real reason behind Memorial Day.

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