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From the Desk of Legislator Dave Mejias: May 22, 2009

History of Memorial Day

Originally designated as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our great nation. There are varying stories in American lore of exactly how the holiday began. Over two dozen cities and towns around America claim to be the original birthplace of Memorial Day. There is even some evidence that the ritual of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers began with women’s groups of the Confederate south during the Civil War. New Yorkers will be proud to learn that the debate was settled in May of 1966 when then-President Lyndon Johnson declared the birthplace of Memorial Day as Waterloo, NY. Most historians agree that the holiday began in many separate places largely during the American Civil War when communities planned and organized dates to honor the fallen soldiers by decorating their graves.

 

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. His general order number 11 was first observed on May 30th, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The original holiday was to honor only those fallen soldiers from the Civil War. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was our own, New York in 1873. By 1890 all of the Northern States had officially recognized the holiday. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on a separate day until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor American soldiers who died in any war. In 1971 Congress passed the National Holiday Act placing the holiday on the last Monday in May, ensuring a three-day weekend for federal holidays. This is observed by almost every state in the union, although some southern states still set aside a separate day to honor the fallen Confederate soldier (Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi).

Traditional observance of Memorial Day had diminished over the years. The holiday has evolved from a somber observance of those who have given their lives for this country to a celebration in honor of both those who have fallen as well as veterans of all wars. In 2000 the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence of listening to Taps.

I encourage everyone to enjoy a wonderful three-day weekend for Memorial Day and to join with your community in observing the moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. on Monday.