Memorial Day is a day set aside as a national holiday for honoring those military personnel who died while serving our country in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day in that it is a day for honoring our fallen heroes from past wars whereas Veterans Day honors all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and Armed Forces Day honors those who are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
How did the holiday originate? According to the website for the United States Library of Congress, “Southern women decorated the graves of soldiers even before the Civil War’s end. Records show that by 1865, Mississippi, Virginia, and South Carolina all had precedents for Memorial Day.”
The earliest observance on record came on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, S.C. when a group of formerly enslaved Black adults and children held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 fallen Union soldiers. Thereafter the Ladies’ Memorial Association encouraged the decorating of the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers throughout the southern states.
Memorial Day is a distinctly American holiday. Although many individuals and cities have claimed to be the first to observe a formal day for decorating the graves of fallen soldiers, according to the National Cemetery Administration, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the holiday formally originated with Mrs. Charles (Mary Ann) Williams of Columbus, Ga.
After her husband, Charles, died she began regularly visiting his grave. Then, inspired by her daughter, she began decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate fallen soldiers. On March 10, 1866, she composed a letter which was reprinted in many southern newspapers urging the southern states to observe the day. Her proposal was well received, and the state of Georgia adopted it as a state holiday on April 26, 1866.
The idea soon caught on in the northern states. Later that same year, a former general in the Union Army, John A. Logan, mentioned the southern states’ observances in a speech to Union soldiers. Then on March 3, 1868, as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Veterans group of former Union army soldiers, Logan issued General Order Number 11, which ordered all military posts in the northern states to observe May 30, 1868 as a national day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers of the Civil War.
The next year, 336 cemeteries across the nation held events honoring our nation’s fallen soldiers.
Although Gen. Logan can be credited with establishing May 30 as the original calendar day for the observance of Decoration Day, in 1971 the United States Congress codified the holiday into law as “Memorial Day” and changed the day of the observance to the last Monday in May.
It has been speculated that celebrating the holiday at the end of May was chosen because no battles of the Civil War could ever be associated with a day in late May and because late May is when the flowers in the northern states are blooming.
Let’s remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice by dying for their country. Theirs was a sacrifice of love for their country and their fellow man. As Jesus once taught in John 15:13, there is no greater expression of love than when a man dies for his friends. Such is the case with our fallen heroes from our nation’s past wars.
While all gave some, some gave all.
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