During this holiday weekend as everyone plans out their backyard BBQs or packs for their camping trips, let's take a moment to remember why we have an extra day off work. I decided to read up on the history of Memorial Day and I discovered a couple of important characters in history that I had never heard of.
The first was General John (Black Jack) Logan from southern Illinois. No one is positive of Memorial Day's exact beginning but it was made official by General Logan as the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5th, 1868 when he issued General Order No. 11. It was originally called "Decoration Day" to honor those who died in the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression if you live in the South). The day chosen for Decoration Day was May 30th being a day that had no major Civil War battles. In General Logan's General Orders No.11 he declared the day
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.
General Logan goes on to say:
Even though the first Decoration Day included around 5,000 attendees and a speech at Arlington National Cemetery by President Garfield, New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890, all northern states recognized the day, but southern states refused and instead had separate days to honor their Civil War dead until after WWI when the holiday was redefined to honor those who died in any war instead of just the Civil War.
For decades, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th each year until Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in June 1968, moving four holidays from their traditional date to a specified Monday to create some three day weekends for those overworked government employees. The law went into effect in 1971 but there is a strong movement to get Memorial Day changed back to May 30th because, as the VFW puts it
The second and third unknown (to me) historical figures I ran across contributed to the tradition of red poppies on Memorial Day. Moina Michael penned a short poem inspired by the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" in 1915 and then had the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. She started selling them to raise money for servicemen in need of assistance and the idea spread. When a visitor from France, Madam Guerin, learned of the tradition, she began making artificial poppies and selling them to support those orphaned by war. Madam Querin is the one who eventually approached the VFW for assistance and they began their "Buddy" Poppy program to raise money for disabled veterans in the 1920s.
Today, Memorial Day seems to have lost some of its importance, but is still marked by ceremonies in towns everywhere. I hope you will go find one near you or find some way to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country as well as think of those family members they left behind.
Information for this post came from the following websites:
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Copyright Dave Lubke and www.davelubke.com, 2020
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