This short history of Memorial Day is pulled from last year’s post. I think it’s important to remember that our country is only 238 years old and some of our holidays are still fairly new. Our modern Memorial Day became a federal holiday just 44 years ago.
Decoration Day or Memorial Day is a United States holiday created to remember and honor those who have died in military service to our country. It was renamed “Memorial Day” and declared a federal holiday in 1971, but its origins go all the way back to the American Civil War.
The Civil War began in 1861 when seven states which permitted slavery decided to secede from the United States after Abraham Lincoln’s election in November of 1860. These seven states…Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas…created their own government in February of 1861 and called themselves the Confederacy.
Lincoln took office in March of 1861, and the United States rejected the secession and declared the Confederacy illegal. The Civil War began in April of 1861 and four more states…Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia…joined the Confederacy. (Later Kentucky and Missouri joined the Confederacy although neither state officially seceded from the United States.)
The Civil War lasted for four long years…from 1861 – 1865…and during this time over 600,000 men from both sides were killed in combat. Women, in the north and in the south, began spontaneously decorating the graves of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons as a way to honor their ultimate sacrifice for their country, and as a way of expressing their own grief.
In 1868, Major General John Logan declared that “Decoration Day” would be observed every May 30th to commemorate all of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. That first Decoration Day, the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery were decorated with flowers and wreaths.
After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to honor and decorate the graves of all who have died in American wars. When Congress made Decoration Day a national holiday in 1971 and renamed it Memorial Day, the date was moved to the last Monday in May so that people might have a three day holiday weekend.
In the year 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. Signed by President Bill Clinton, this established a moment for all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day and remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have died in service to our nation.
On Memorial Day, small American flags are placed on each veteran’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. and on graves at other national cemeteries. Many Americans will fly flags on their homes and businesses.
We have rules and customs regarding our American Flag that all citizens should follow to show respect for the flag which symbolizes our country and our patriotism. Here’s a reminder of flag etiquette as we head into flag flying season and three federal holidays involving the American flag…Memorial Day on May 25th, Flag Day, and Independence Day.
*The flag may be flown every day between sunrise and sunset but should be illuminated if it is flown at night.
*In bad weather such as rain, snow, hail and wind storms the flag should be brought in unless it is an all-weather flag.
*On Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-staff until noon and at full staff from noon until sunset.
*Other national holidays when the flag should be displayed are:
New Year’s Day, January 1
Inauguration Day, January 20
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, third Monday in January
Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15
Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
Memorial Day, last Monday in May
Flag Day, June 14
Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
Independence Day, July 4
Labor Day, first Monday in September
Patriot Day, September 11 (half-staff)
POW/MIA Recognition Day, third Friday in September
Constitution Day, September 17
Columbus Day, second Monday in October
Navy Day, October 27
Veterans Day, November 11
Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
Pearl Harbor Day, December 7
Christmas Day, December 25
Flags may also be flown on state holidays and the date of the state’s admission into the Union.
*Flags should be flown on all public buildings and institutions and at schools during school days.
*Flags should be displayed in or near polling places on election days.
*No other flag should be displayed above the United States Flag.
*The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
*If used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into a grave or allowed to touch the ground.
*The flag should never touch anything beneath it such as the floor, the ground, or water.
*Our flag should be held aloft and free, never carried flat or horizontally.
*The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling, as clothing, or as a blanket.
*The flag should never have anything placed on it or carried in it.
*The flag should never be displayed upside down except as a signal of dire distress.
*Never draw on, sign or otherwise mark the flag.
*If necessary, flags should be dry-cleaned, not washed at home.
*If the flag is torn or damaged, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning, and the ashes should be buried.
We recently purchased a new flag because our old one was torn during one of the Texas windstorms this spring. I must say I favor the flags with the raised, embroidered stars rather than the flat, printed ones. We are giving our damaged flag to a neighbor whose son is a Cub Scout, so his troop can learn about the proper disposal of an American Flag.