Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is our day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our nation. Many believe that women’s groups in the South first began to decorate soldier’s graves even before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 all of the northern states had recognized the holiday. It is now celebrated by our country on the last Monday of May.
In 1915, Moina Michael wrote a poem "In Flanders Fields," "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 die.” She then conceived the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died while serving the nation during war. She sold poppies to her friends and co-workers using the money to benefit servicemen and their families in need.
Just before Memorial Day in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars became the first organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy Poppy" program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
Traditional observances of Memorial Day have diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day; to many the holiday is simply the ‘start of summer’ and a time for that first trip to the lake, or first Bar-B-Q. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored perhaps even neglected. Few people either know or remember proper flag etiquette for the day.
While some towns still hold Memorial Day observances, many have not held any observance in years. There are exceptions. Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 270,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
On this day of remembrance, as we honor those who gave their full measure of devotion serving our Nation, we affirm our commitment to our active military, veterans and to our wounded warriors and their families.
To all of our Armed Forces, serving at home or abroad, please know that your sacrifices do not go unnoticed. We are grateful for your service and are privileged to stand in honor of you, and we will wear and cherish our Poppy Red so as to never forget.