The Meaning Behind Memorial Day: Paying Respect to Those Who have Fallen
Memorial Day is often looked at as a time to have fun, grill some burgers and hot dogs, jump in a lake, and celebrate the start of summer. However, the American holiday has a much more somber history and is meant to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military and not to be confused with Veteran’s Day which is honoring those alive who served.
This year, it falls on Monday, May 29th and every year a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 pm local time.
World War I veterans reminisce in 1971
Memorial Day began in the years after the Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day. It became an official federal holiday in 1971 and while many people host parties or BBQs, some observe the day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, honoring those that were lost in battle. Some records show that the earliest tributes began in the late 1860s, with Americans decorating graves and sharing songs and prayers for fallen soldiers.
Small American flags are placed on the graves of America’s war dead in Arlington National Cemetery in preparation for the observance of Memorial Day
While it is unclear where the tradition originated exactly, Waterloo, New York has been named the official birthplace of Memorial Day. This is because the town hosted a community-wide event starting in 1866 where businesses were closed in order to decorate graves of soldiers and honor them.
Father and daughter at a parade in 1970
The date was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any one battle and could honor soldiers everywhere. For many years, Memorial Day was always observed on May 30th but was later changed to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. This law came about in 1971, which also declared the day an official federal holiday. Now, many cities host a parade on Memorial Day, honoring our fallen soldiers. Many people also choose to wear a red poppy in remembrance, a tradition that started in World War I based on a poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. No matter what you choose to do on Memorial Day, it is important to remember the true meaning of the holiday and honor those who lost their lives fighting for our freedoms.
Marchers play drums during the Memorial Day Parade as it passes through downtown on May 24, 2015 in Waterbury, Connecticut.
John Tabor, Edgar Fowdle, and Harry Meadows, pay tribute to fallan comrades buried in the Cemetary of the U.S. Soldiers. The graves are decorated in preparation for Memorial Day
17 empty black painted chairs with 17 helmets and 17 flowers at Gray’s Memorial Day parade and ceremonies on May 28, 1991, represent Maine’s 17 POW/MIAs still unaccounted for.
James Manico takes it easy in carriage as his sister, Gail (left), 4, watches the Memorial Day Parade on Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn., May 30, 1959
President Ronald Reagan observes Memorial Day at the National Cemetery May 27, 1985