Today across America, people remember the men and women who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. They place flowers and flags on their gravesites and hold programs to honor those who have served.
Initially, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day and was celebrated on May 5. It originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during that war.
At first, the South refused to acknowledge Memorial Day on May 5th. They honored their dead on a separate day until after World War I. After World War I, the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
The first Civil War soldier’s grave was decorated in Warrenton, Virginia, in 1861. In 1862, women in Savannah, Georgia, decorated soldiers’ graves there. In 1863, the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was dedicated and a ceremony was held memorializing the dead soldiers.
The first well-known observance of Memorial Day was in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. During the war, Union soldiers were held prisoners at the Charleston Race Course. Over 257 Union prisoners died there. They were hastily buried in unmarked graves.
Teachers, missionaries, and black residents of Charleston organized a ceremony to honor those who passed away at the Race Course. The New York Tribune, and other national papers, carried the story. Nearly ten thousand people attended the celebration – about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, freedmen, members of mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers and white northern missionaries.
My grandfather served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Had he enlisted three months earlier, he could have been among those who captured Iwo Jima (and possibly among those who gave their lives there). My uncle served in the Viet Nam War. My father served 6 years in the National Guard. I have much to be thankful for at this time of year for those serving in the armed forces.
David Olson, 66, the senior vice commander of the Veteran of Foreign Wars in Oregon, said that today is an important day not only for veterans of foreign wars but for every veteran from every branch of service. Today is a significant day – one that should not be forgotten.
So let us pause in our celebrations today to remember and to honor our country’s service men and women. Let us be forever grateful that they fought for our freedoms so that we can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Americans gather to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day.” Fox News; 27 May 2013.
Memorial Day History. Hisotry.com; 27 May 2013.
Memorial Day History. USMemorialDay.org.