Memorial Day was first established by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5, 1868. It was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The desire for a national day of remembrance was born of the grief of the many casualties of the Civil War. Many towns had already created ways to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers and the movement was catching on across the nation.
New York State was the first to officially recognize Memorial Day on May 30, 1873. Other northern states followed, while the southern states continued to choose their own days of remembrance. Memorial Day became a national day of remembrance after World War I and the sentiment was changed to honor all fallen soldiers from any war. Congress moved the observance of Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday in May in 1971, in order to create a three-day federal holiday weekend.
During the course of the weekend you will see many veterans selling a red poppy to raise money for disabled veterans. Inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, Moina Michael wrote her own verse:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
Ms. Michael wore the first red poppy as a way to honor the fallen soldiers. Another tradition was born.
As we enjoy the unofficial start to summer today, let’s please take a moment to pause and remember that the breaths we take are still filled with the scent of freedom and the aroma of hope, thanks to those whose breaths were silenced in service to our country. May they rest in peace with the knowledge that today is not about division or politics. It is about unity and reconciliation. We owe them at least that much.
Happy Memorial Day to all.
In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.