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Memorial Day: Facts and Traditions

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Land of the free, home of the brave is a phrase most commonly associated with the United States of America. In recognition of this, the country observes a federal holiday known as Memorial Day which is observed in honor of the men and women of the armed forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and died while serving the country.

On this day, the people of America spend time keeping the spirit alive and remembering all the servicemen and women and the lives they have given in exchange for the luxury and freedom that they are enjoying today.

As Joseph Campbell once said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”.

When is Memorial Day observed?

Between the years of 1868 and 1970, Memorial Day was observed every 30th of May. At present, it is annually celebrated every last Monday of May. Memorial Day, however, must not be confused with Veterans Day as the latter is observed every 11th of November. 

Memorial Day: History and Origin

Memorial Day was originally referred to as Decoration Day which was established by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) on May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War. On this day, the nation is encouraged to decorate the graves of the servicemen who died in the war with flowers, thus the term Decoration Day. 

The original date of Decoration Day was determined by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan due to the fact that most flowers bloom all over the country in May.

Traditionally, a national moment of remembrance is attended at 3:00 pm local time by the people of America as they visit the cemeteries and memorials and often place an American flag on each gravesite.

Some records even show that one of the earliest commemorations of Memorial day was organized and attended by recently freed slaves. Meanwhile, based on official records, the first celebration was held on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, which was attended by 5,000 people who decorated the graves of 20,000 military personnel with flowers.

Further, there are claims that this act was initiated even before Decoration Day was officially established. Specifically, on April 25, 1868, in Columbus, Mississippi, a group of women had decorated the graves of the confederate soldiers who had died from the battle of Shiloh. Not too far away were the graves of the Union soldiers. Not being able to resist the sight of the bare graves, the women also decided to decorate theirs with flowers, as well.

Memorial Day Traditions

Families of the deceased members of the armed forces or even those who are not but chose to honor them observe quite a number of traditions when celebrating Memorial Day. 

Visiting local cemeteries. Some graves are well-maintained and decorated by family members, but for those who no longer have living relatives, the task of decorating their graves with flowers is passed on to local veterans groups. 

Wearing of Red Poppies. As a sign of respect and honor, many Americans pin a red poppy on their shirt. This act of remembrance started due to the influence of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by John McCrae. 

National Moment of Remembrance. In December 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” to make sure that every American never forgets all the sacrifices the fallen heroes have made for their freedom. The law was created to encourage all people to stop whatever they are doing at exactly 3 pm local time and give a moment of silence to remember and honor those who have died fighting for their nation.

Hanging of flag at half-mast. Whether at home or at any institution, the American flag should be raised at half-mast only until noon, as per the federal guidelines. 

Playing “Taps”. One of the most strictly observed traditions during Memorial Day is playing Taps which is also played at funerals.

Memorial Day Weekend: On a less solemn tradition, some families spend the Memorial Day weekend going on road trips, having barbecues, or simply watching Memorial Day-themed movies at home.

Here are some of the great movies that you can enjoy on Memorial Day Weekend:

  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Top Gun (1986)
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
  • Black Hawk Down (2001)
  • D-Day (2004)
  • The Hurt Locker (2008)
  • American Sniper (2014)
  • Megan Leavey (2017)

However you decide to observe Memorial Day, you must never forget to be always keeping the spirit alive and commemorate and give honor to the unsung heroes who died on the battlefield fighting for the nation. May Memorial Day be a reminder that freedom is not free.

“Their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored”. - Daniel W. 

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