It was three years after the Civil War had torn the country apart, both literally and in spirit, that the first Decoraration Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capitol. From the first ceremony, the intentions were clear — remembering the sacrifice of those who died in uniform.
While many local communities claim to have originated Memorial Day before that first national celebration, this was the first at a national scale.
Originally honoring just those who had fought in the Civil War, the observance that had become known as Memorial Day began recognizing the fallen of all American wars after World War I.
Congress officially declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971, placing it on the last Monday in May and giving it a uniform day across the nation to pay respect to those who voluntarily offered to serve their country before willingly giving their lives.
At 3 p.m. every Memorial Day, there is a National Moment of Remembrance. This moment is a moment for all to stop what they are doing on that day to observe silence in honor of those who have died in service to the United States. The act creating that moment was signed into law in December 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton after passing both houses of Congress.
While there are many to grieve that we’ve lost in the last year, Monday is not that day. It is not even the day to recognize those who are active-duty in the military. Those heroes have a day called Armed Forces Day to recognize all active-duty armed forces members earlier in May. Armed Forces Day fell on Saturday, May 16 this year.
This is not even the day to recognize living or dead military members that were able to serve their country and then come home and return to civilian life. Every November, we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11 to honor all those who were able to serve and return home.
Those we loved and have lost, military or not, absolutely deserve a time for us to remember them, but this is not the day. Memorial Day was set aside intentionally for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who put on the uniform of one of the branches of the United States military and willingly entered into danger, ultimately costing a life.
On Memorial Day, we honor that sacrifice. “Taps” will be played, gun salutes will be fired, and parades will happen in honor of those who made that sacrifice.
Please respect the one day each year we spend honoring those heroes. Your visit to your loved one’s gravesite can wait for another day. They will understand.