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“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance … Let no neglect,
no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have
forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
are the words of Gen. John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the
Republic (GAR), who declared that May 30 would be a day to decorate the graves of
Civil War soldiers with flowers.
May 30, 1868, about 5,000 attended a Decoration Day ceremony at Arlington
National Cemetery. Members of the GAR and children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’
Orphan Home placed flowers on Union and Confederate graves.
New York officially recognized Decoration Day in 1873, and all the Northern states
had followed by 1890. Most of the South honored Confederate dead on a separate day
until after World War I, when the day expanded to honor those who died in all American
The term “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882 and became common after World War II.
A law in 1968 made it the holiday’s official name and moved it to the last Monday
in May. Some groups advocate moving Memorial
Day back to its traditional May 30 date to remind the country of the day’s true
To that end, the National Moment
of Remembrance Act, passed in December 2000, encourages Americans to observe a
minute of silence and remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.
Cities across the country held local observances before the one at Arlington in 1868
(read about those on the
Veterans Administration website), with the official Memorial Day birthplace award
going to Waterloo, NY: In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson made the designation
100 years after the town’s first Memorial Day on May 5, 1866.
I’ll be back later this week with some tips for honoring your military ancestors by
learning about their lives and service to their country.