contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.
– Theodore O’Hara
Honoring Memorial Day is as American as apple pie. Here’s how it all started.
The Civil War, which ended in 1865, claimed the lives of more than 2% of the American population at the time. This is at least five times the death rate of any other, U.S.-involved conflict. The official death toll continues to be one of the highest in U.S. history, second only to World War II. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery was established during the Civil War to accommodate the large number of graves required for fallen U.S. soldiers.
In 1868 the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union Veterans, established Decoration Day, which was celebrated on May 30th each year. On this day of remembrance, U.S. citizens decorated the graves of soldiers killed during the Civil War. It is said that May 30th was chosen for this day of honor because it was a date that flowers would most likely be in bloom all over the country.
For more than 50 years, Decoration Day specifically honored those killed while fighting the Civil War. It wasn’t until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who lost their lives while fighting for our country in any war.
In 1971, Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day. It was at this time that we began honoring Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, each year. This year, Memorial Day is celebrated on Monday, May 31, 2021.
What is Memorial Day without national recognition and a few annual traditions? The first documented celebrations honoring Memorial Day – National Decoration Day, at the time – were presided over by General Ulysses S. Grant and included speeches and formal decorating of both Union and Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Prior years’ observances held in local municipalities included ceremonies that honored Civil War Veterans, the closing of businesses for the day, and flags flown at half-staff.
Honoring Memorial Day looks very similar today. Businesses close, we observe a national moment of remembrance at 3:00 PM, and many individuals use the day to recognize a family member who gave their life for our country. Additionally, volunteers often place American Flags on each gravesite at National Cemeteries throughout the country.
At sunrise on Memorial Day, flags are quickly raised to the top of the staff and then slowly lowered to half-staff. At noon, they are again quickly raised to full staff, where they fly until sunset.
The list of retailers and dining establishments that offer military discounts on Memorial Day grows every year. For instance, Home Depot gives 10% off regularly priced merchandise with a valid Military ID, and 7-Eleven honors Veterans and active-duty military members with a free coffee or big gulp.
What does Memorial Day celebrate and how is that different from Veterans Day? Memorial Day honors those who have lost their lives in battle or because of injuries sustained in battle. Veterans Day, observed on November 11th each year, celebrates any person who served in the Military, whether during wartime or not.
Perhaps Tamra Bolton said it best: “This is the day we pay homage to all those who didn’t come home. This is not Veterans Day, it’s not a celebration, it is a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of freedom.”
Here are some of our favorite Memorial Day quotes to inspire civilians and honor those who fought for their country and paid the ultimate price.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Reagan
“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget, in time, that men have died to win them.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” –Unknown
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.” –George S. Patton
“In the aftermath, we are because they were.” –RJ Heller
Military Connection salutes those who have lost their lives while protecting and serving our country, and we continue to be grateful for the sacrifices of our Veterans and military-connected families. Thank you all for everything you have done and continue to do.