Memorial Day is celebrated each May to commemorate the people who died in service of the United States of America.
Even though barbecues and visions of the upcoming summer weather may command much of the attention come Memorial Day weekend, the holiday really serves as a remembrance for those military members who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as the personnel who continue to protect and serve today.
Memorial Day origins
Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and was borne out of the Civil War. On May 30, 1868, General John Logan, a national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, decreed General Order No. 11, which designated the day for the “purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” May 30 was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
It took several years for the first state to recognize the holiday, which New York adopted in 1873. By 1890, all northern states recognized Decoration Day. When the holiday changed from commemorating those who died fighting the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war after World War I, the South began to recognize it as well.
Honoring the military
Although Memorial Day pays homage to the brave people who perished fighting for their country, it also is an opportunity to recognize the military men and women and their families who continue to work to ensure the freedom of Americans.
The United States Armed Forces is renowned for its size and strength. Various sources suggest the size of the United States military is somewhere between 1.4 and 1.6 million active service people. The military is comprised of the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Each of these military branches also has its own reserves.
There are many ways to honor active, reserve and former veterans, as well as those who died in service of their country.
• Help Veterans of Foreign Wars distribute red poppies as a visual reminder of the military’s efforts.
• Volunteer at a veterans’ hospital or visit a wounded veteran at home.
• Offer financial, legal or career expertise through the Corporation for National & Community Service (serve.gov).
• Help to maintain the veteran area of a nearby cemetery. Place flags on all of the graves.
• Befriend military families who frequently relocate, making a concerted effort to welcome them into your community.
• Educate children about past wars and the services the military provides.
• Visit a military museum or historic site.
• Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm local time for one minute.
• Post a message to the troops at the USO website (uso.org).