Memorial Day origin – decorating veterans’ graves

Memorial Day origin – decorating veterans’ graves
May 27 15:12 2019 Print This Article

As Americans celebrate Memorial Day with family and friends, many are not aware of the holiday’s origin or what it represents. At the conclusion of the Civil War or War Between the States, in the spring of 1865, local communities in the North and the South established “Decoration Day” ceremonies at the grave sites of veterans of what remains the bloodiest armed conflict in American history, with an estimated 655,000 war dead. Families of the veterans would gather to place flowers in front of the tombstones of the deceased.

General James Garfield, who would later become the 20th President of the United States, nationalized the ceremony in May 1868 with a large gathering at Arlington National Cemetery. More than 5000 participants gathered to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there. During World War I, beginning in 1917, the holiday was re-branded as Memorial Day and recognized American personnel who died in all previous wars. Congress declared it a national holiday in 1971 to be observed on the forth Monday in May.

Looking back at American wars ranging from the American Revolution to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 1.3 million men and women have lost their lives in service to our country. That includes 117,000 in the trench warfare of World War I, 405,000 in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II, 36,000 in Korea, and 58,000 in Vietnam. The more recent 7000 war deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq have spanned more than 17 years, the longest wars in American history.

The Americans who gave their lives in combat helped change the course of world history. Watching movies like The Patriot, Gettysburg, Sergeant York, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Lone Survivor and so many others shows those of us who didn’t serve in combat how brutal wars are and that it takes brave, devoted and exceptional war-fighters to preserve our heritage. We are blessed to honor our fallen heroes today and on each Memorial Day.