- MEMORIAL DAY BEGAN AS A RESPONSE TO THE CIVIL WAR.
Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which a total of some 620,000 soldiers died between both sides. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to several spontaneous commemorations of the dead.
In 1864, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, put flowers on the graves of their fallen soldiers from the just-fought Battle of Gettysburg. The next year, a group of women decorated the graves of soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, cemetery.
Waterloo, New York, began holding an annual community service on May 5, 1866. Although many towns claimed the title, it was Waterloo that won congressional recognition as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day.”
- MAJOR GENERAL JOHN A. LOGAN MADE THE DAY OFFICIAL.
General Logan, the speaker at the Carbondale gathering, was also commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Order No. 11, which set aside May 30, 1868 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”
The orders expressed hope that the observance would be “kept up from year to year while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades.”
- MEMORIAL DAY WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS DECORATION DAY.
The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. The name “Memorial Day” goes back to 1882, but the older name didn’t disappear until after World War II. It wasn’t until 1967 that federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name.
- MEMORIAL DAY IS MORE OF A FRANCHISE THAN A NATIONAL HOLIDAY.
Calling Memorial Day a “national holiday” is a bit of a misnomer. While there have been 10 federal holidays created by Congress—including Memorial Day—they apply only to federal employees and the District of Columbia. Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day’s pay.
For the rest of us, our holidays were enacted state by state. New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, in 1873. Most northern states had followed suit by the 1890s. The states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday memorializing those who, in General Logan’s words, “united to suppress the late rebellion.” The South didn’t adopt the May 30 Memorial Day until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been broadened to include those who died in all the country’s wars.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
5. ONE VIETNAM VETERANS’ RIGHTS GROUP WILL HOLD A VIRTUAL MOTORCYCLE RIDE TO HONOR MEMORIAL DAY IN 2020.
On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2500 motorcyclists rode into Washington, D.C. for the first Rolling Thunder rally in order to draw attention to Vietnam War soldiers still missing in action and prisoners of war. By 2002, the ride had swelled to 300,000 bikers, many of them veterans, and in 2018, the numbers were likely closer to half a million.Though it was reported that 2019 would be the group’s last Memorial Day ride, the organization American Veterans (AMVETS) is continuing the tradition in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to WUSA9. Now known as Rolling to Remember, 2020’s ride will be a bit different—instead of hundreds of thousands of riders going through Washington, D.C., organizers are asking participants to ride 22 miles through their own community for a virtual Memorial Day demonstration on Sunday, May 24. Riders will then be able to track and share their progress using the REVER app.
Traveling 22 miles is significant, because in addition to raising awareness for soldiers missing in action and prisoners of war, AMVETS wants to bring attention to the average 22 veterans who die by suicide every day.
From everyone here at Allstaff we thank you.