There is something special about observing Memorial Day and it involves reconciliation. In other words, the history of this observance finds its genesis in the Civil War and the families who carried on with their lives after losing loved ones in combat.
There are a lot of claims as to its actual beginnings, with many cities claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Organized women groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War to observe the lost of the war dead.
President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. He attributed it to Henry C. Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, New York. At a social gathering Mr. Welles suggested that a day should be set aside to honor the dead of the Civil War. The following year he repeated his suggestion to General John P. Murray, the two men and a group formed of local citizens gained the support of the village they lived in and on May 5, 1865, the first complete observance took place in Waterloo, New York.
Given there were numerous claims of who was the first to commemorate this observance, it was evident each of the towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in General John Logan, National Commander of the Republic giving his proclamation in 1868.
It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that the observance was established. Memorial Day is not about reconciliation, it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. Where are we today in our understanding of Memorial Day?
Sadly, some American citizens are not aware of the real meaning of Memorial Day, in fact some people think its about cookouts and or vacation time at the beach. While there is nothing wrong with special family outings and having a good time, this observance is about the men and women in uniform who went in harms way, lost their lives so we can live with liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
It is easy to see how our lack of understanding this observance has declined, simply drive by cemeteries and you will see the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored and neglected. Some towns and cities still hold Memorial Day parades, however many have not held a parade in decades.
What is most alarming is some people think Memorial Day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country. After World War 1, observances also began to honor those who had died in all American Wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed on December 2000 which asks that at 3:00pm local time, for all Americans to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
I highly encourage you to participate in an observance in your local community, without our men and women in uniform making the ultimate sacrifice, likelihood is we would have lost our liberty, freedom and way of life to an enemy.
Today as our men and women in uniform fight two simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some have lost their lives in defense of a grateful nation and all of us should honor their service. I highly recommend you encourage your family and neighbors pay their respect to Americans who gave their life so we could live.
Paul Lawrence Vann delivers insight on the meaning of Memorial Day. He served 20 years in the United States Air Force and worked on the personal staff of a member of Congress and the House Armed Services Committee. Paul is author of the book, Living on Higher Ground and is interviewed by radio stations throughout the U.S. to provide awareness to a new generation of Americans, unaware of the significance of this observance. [http://www.paullawrencevann.com], (240) 416-5077.
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