May 30 is Memorial Day. However because of the "National Holiday Act of 1971" passed by congress, Memorial Day is now celebrated on Monday after the last full weekend of May thereby creating a three day weekend. Memorial Day to some is still the official start of the summer season.
First known as "Decoration Day" the origins of Memorial Day are hard to trace. Many cities and towns have laid claim to the tradition but in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo N.Y. as the official birthplace of the tradition. The first proclamation of such a day of remembrance came from General John Logan (pictured right) on May 5th 1868. In that year on May 30 flowers were place on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. By the year 1890 all of the Northern States recognized the day but most of the Southern States continued to honor their dead on various days and continued to do so until after WWI when is was declared Memorial Day would be for all Americans who had died fighting in any war, not just the Civil War.
In 1915 Moina Michael responded to Jon McCrae's Poem "In Flanders Field" with:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
With this poem she conceived the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who had given their all. She also sold poppies to friends and co-workers and used the money to benefit servicemen in need. The tradition spread to other countries and red poppies, real and artificial, are sold worldwide for similar causes. In 1922 the VFW was the first veterans organization to take up the cause and now sells artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.
Much of the meaning of Memorial Day has been lost to the ages. Fewer towns and cities have parades or programs for the day and many Americans know little about the day except that is another holiday.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. 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."
Many traditions however do continue. On the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. This is the same detachment of soldiers that guard the "Tomb of the Unknowns" ( www.arlingtoncemetery.net/tombofun.htm) The soldiers then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day.
More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights.
Won't you please take just a few moments this weekend and reflect on the meaning of the day. And should a veteran offer up a poppy, be kind and be generous.