Memorial Day is an important holiday that is often misunderstood. Barbeques, picnics, and other activities have come to be associated with this holiday, and many confuse Memorial Day with Veteran’s Day.
While Veteran’s Day honors all those who have served for our country, Memorial Day is set aside to specifically honor our fallen soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the military. Here are three facts about Memorial Day you probably didn’t know.
1. It used to be called Declaration Day.
Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day and was first organized in 1868 to honor those who died in the Civil War. General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, stated, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated 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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Over time, the date gradually became known as Memorial Day and came to encompass fallen soldiers from all our wars.
2. It was changed to create a three-day weekend.
For years, Memorial Day fell on May 30th until congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, making it a three-day weekend for federal employees. We now celebrate Memorial Day on the last weekend of May, regardless of the date.
3. The poppy symbolizes Memorial Day.
As you’ve learned in history classes, World War I was terrible. The Industrial Revolution brought a whole new level of destruction and death, and bloody battlefields covered Europe. Amid this despair, the common red field poppy became one of the first plants to return once the war ended. In 1915, John McCrae, a Canadian Soldier, wrote about these flowers in his poem “In Flanders Fields”:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppy has become a symbol of our fallen soldiers. The deep red petals remind us of their sacrifices and devotion to our country.
While Memorial Day has gone through a variety of changes, its importance and meaning remain steadfast: we honor the men and women who have died for us and for our freedom. May we always reflect upon our fallen heroes and show appreciation for the freedom we enjoy.