For many, Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer. It means inviting over friends and family, and firing up the grill for some backyard fun. Nothing is wrong with that – as long as we keep in focus why Memorial Day is a holiday, and incorporate an acknowledgment of it into our festivities. It is important that we pass on to our children a respect for and understanding of the sacrifice brave men and women have made for the well being of our country over its 200 + year history.
Memorial Day – Facts and Figures
Memorial Day celebrations commemorating our fallen soldiers actually began back in 1868, In Waterloo, New York. On May 5th of that year, the entire town closed all shops and businesses to decorate the graves of its hometown heroes. Other towns began to follow suit. John A. Logan, a former general and head of the Union Veterans’ Association, had the idea to unite all the decoration ceremonies into a national holiday. The first National Decoration Day took place on May 30, 1868.
At this ceremony, over 5,000 mourners came together at Arlington National Cemetery and decorated the graves of the 20,000 union and confederate soldiers’ graves with ribbons and flowers. Decoration ceremonies grew, and by the end of the century, it was renamed Memorial Day.
But divisions between the North and South after the Civil War remained strong, and many southern towns refused to celebrate what they saw as a union holiday. Instead, they conducted their own distinct decoration ceremonies.
World War I united the North and South against a common enemy. It also allowed our country to unite in its efforts to recognize those soldiers that gave their lives for our freedom. From then on, May 30th became a day to remember and honor all those American soldiers who died during war time since the Revolutionary War.
Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971. Congress changed the holiday from May 30th to the 3rd weekend in May, giving workers a 3 day weekend to conduct celebrations.
Since our country’s beginning, over 1,300,000 soldiers have died during war time, due to either combat or other causes. Another 1,500,00 + soldiers have been wounded, with a grand total of over 2,400,000 of our country’s sons and daughters dead or wounded during war time. Another 38,159 soldiers are still missing. These fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers deserve our utmost thanks for and recognition of their sacrifice – especially during our Memorial Day festivities. If the above figures are of interest to you, Wikipedia has an excellent chart delineating these figures by specific war/conflict, wars ranked by total deaths, etc…
Ideas of How Families Can Recognize Our Soldiers’ Sacrifice of Life
- Fly your flag at half-staff from dawn until 12 noon.
- Attend a local Memorial Day Parade. Proudly sing our national anthem when it is played (I’m always shocked at how many people don’t do this anymore!).
- Visit a local cemetery and lay a flower at a soldier’s grave or at a monument honoring fallen soldiers.
- Watch some great Memorial Day videos on the History Channel’s website. Obviously, watch them first without kids to be sure they are appropriate.
- Talk with your family about why we celebrate Memorial Day, how many people have given their lives for our collective safety and freedoms.
- Play patriotic music, and teach your kids a patriotic song they might not already know. YouTube can be a great resource – again, watch videos first to be sure they are appropriate.
- Listen to or watch the National Memorial Day concert broadcast on PBS. The concert airs Sunday, May 29th at 8 pm/7 Central.
- Make a donation to the USO or a local Veterans’ Organization.