“For love of their country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
James A. Garfield, May 30, 1868, Arlington National Cemetery
MONDAY, MAY 25: Patriotic parades, solemn ceremonies and the unofficial start of summer mark Memorial Day in the United States, observed annually on the last Monday of May.
In some communities, Americans young and old line the streets for parades. Many take time to listen to veteran stories and pay respect to fallen soldiers.
This year, you can salute veterans by learning more about their lives, thanks to a new book from the Michigan State University School of Journalism—learn about that book’s debut in this story by MSU’s journalism professor Joe Grimm.
Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began after the Civil War and became a federal holiday in 1971. Interestingly, the same number of people who attended the first ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery—approximately 5,000—is the same number that attends today.
CORRECTING THE RECORD
In the 1960s, veterans activists from Waterloo, New York, succeeded in achieving widespread acknowledgement as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. The holiday had been observed in Waterloo since 1866.
Our ReadTheSpirit magazine—and this Holidays column—has been in the journalistic forefront of correcting that historical record by reporting over many years on the research of historian Stephen Blight. If you care to delve more deeply into that story of courageous former slaves who held the first Memorial Day-type observance in 1865, click on the historic photo or right here to jump back to some of our earlier coverage. Blight dug deep into archives and 19th-century newspaper accounts to document that “first.”
The first official Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery—May 30, 1868—drew a crowd of 5,000 people, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. grant. By 1890, each state in the North had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states didn’t follow suit until after World War I. (Wikipedia has details.) As the nation and its memorial holiday evolved, Decoration Day was recognized as a day of remembrance for all soldiers who had sacrificed their lives for their country. Gradually, the holiday became known as Memorial Day, and in 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
In cemeteries across the nation, small American flags are placed at each veteran’s grave for Memorial Day remembrances and, among some families, flowers are placed on fallen ancestors’ gravesites. A National Moment of Remembrance is observed at 3 p.m. local time. In the evening, the National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol, and is broadcast live on PBS and NPR. This year, the concert will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, tribute children who have lost a parent to war and feature performers including Gloria Estefan. (Learn more here.)
2015 TRAVEL FORECAST, GRILLING TIPS AND PARTY IDEAS
As Memorial Day unofficially kicks off summer in the United States, many Americans travel during the three-day weekend. This year, AAA projects 37.2 million travelers on Memorial Day weekend—the highest travel volume for the holiday in 10 years—with 33 million traveling by automobile. Experts point to low gas prices, higher employment rates and a cold winter season as likely reasons for higher travel averages.
- Support troops, locate a memorial monument and find sheet music for Patriotic songs at USA.gov.
- Look no further for summer kick-off recipes—Memorial Day collections are at Food Network, AllRecipes and Kraft.
- Decorate or host a Memorial Day get-together with tips from Martha Stewart.
- Find grilling, boating and safety tips, travel advisories and all-American recipes at USA.gov.