The meaning of Memorial Day
As an American, can you think of one thing that we are most grateful for?
Or better still, one thing that makes us sincerely proud as Americans?
In my quest to find what Americans are most proud of, I chanced on reliable data from Gallup. It revealed areas Americans are proud of. So, in a particular order, these are the six insights:
- The American scientific achievements
- The US military
- The American culture and arts
- The American economic achievements
- The American sports achievements
- And the American diversity in race, ethnicity, and religion
Let's get into The meaning of Memorial Day.
According to this Gallup research, eighty-nine (89%) percent of Americans hold the military in high esteem. Interestingly, this confirms Americans' respect for the men and women protecting the country. Also, it extends to the memories of those who died serving the nation.
So, to honor these heroic soldiers (men and women), this write-up will cover the following:
- When is Memorial Day?
- Inspiring Memorial Day quotes from a few respected people
- The meaning behind Memorial Day
- Is Memorial Day for those who died in the war?
- What is the significance of Memorial Day?
- Do you say Happy Memorial Day?
- The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day
- How to Sincerely Honor Memorial Day
- And other interesting facts about Memorial Day
With little ado, let's set the ball rolling!
When Is Memorial Day?
As a holiday in the United States, Memorial Day is marked to honor the heroic soldiers who died while serving the country. It's marked on the last Monday of May. Initially, it was known as Declaration Day, originating during the American Civil War.
This year, Memorial Day will fall on Monday, May 30. I hope you'll ink it on your calendar. Now, I'm glad to share the next five years with you, covering 2023 to 2027 below:
- 2023—Monday, May 29
- 2024—Monday, May 27
- 2025—Monday, May 26
- 2026—Monday, May 25
- 2027—Monday, May 31
Ten Memorial Day Quotes to Get You Fired Up
As custom demands, speeches are part of the event. And over the years, well-wishers have delivered inspiring and sobering quotes to mark the occasion. So, to put you in a reflective mood, enjoy these quotes from some selected leaders.
- Bob Riley: "I have long believed that sacrifice is the pinnacle of patriotism."
- Thomas Campbell: "The patriot's blood is the seed of freedom's tree."
- Claudia Pemberton: "America without her soldiers would be like God without His angels."
- Sergeant Major Bill Paxton: "May we never forget our fallen comrades. Freedom isn't free."
- Elie Wiesel: "Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future."
- Maya Angelou: "How important is it for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes."
- Barack Obama: "Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay."
- James A. Garfield: "For the love of country, they accepted death, and they resolved all doubts and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue."
- Jeff Miller: "The willingness of America's veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
What Is The Meaning Behind Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a solemn holiday that commemorates the officers who lost their lives while performing their military duties. Initially, it was meant for those who died in the Civil War. However, today, it recognizes every officer who died while serving the country's interests.
Therefore, the goal of Memorial Day is to remember the veterans who gave us freedom by sacrificing their lives for the country. Again, Memorial Day allows Americans to reflect, support, and grief with the families who have lost their loved ones during the war.
To understand the holiday's true meaning, we have to revisit history. In an address, James Garfield, a Congressman, stated:
"I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung."
During a Decoration Day, Mr. James Garfield made this emotional speech at Arlington in 1868. It was the start of Memorial Day after a few years of the Civil War. Also, it marks the beginning of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
After this event, Arlington National Cemetery became the official ground for observing the day.
Is Memorial Day Just For Those Who Died In War?
Memorial Day is one of the patriotic holidays Americans observe each year. It remembers and honors the servicemen and women who died serving the nation's interest. Luckily, the day is marked on the last Monday in May, and it excludes those officers who are alive.
The event traced its root to a post-Civil War period on May 5, 1866. In Waterloo, New York, citizens were encouraged to honor their dead by placing flags and flowers on their graves. Then, two years later, an organization of union veterans instituted the holiday.
General John Logan declared the event should be honored on May 30. He settled on this day because it was a neutral day for both participants of the Civil War to honor their heroes.
However, on May 20, 1868, about 5,000 participants at the National Decoration Day decorated nearly 20,000 graves of the fallen soldiers. It took place at the Arlington National Cemetery.
With time, the event changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Then in the year 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing it as a federal holiday.
Also, the Act placed the holiday on the last Monday in May. Finally, it took full effect in 1971.
What Is the Significance of Memorial Day?
The Civil War claimed about 620,000 lives within four years. These were brave officers who sacrificed their lives for our country's freedom. But can we pay these debts? As a country, the best we can do is to immortalize them.
I think Memorial Day does that.
First, the holiday allows us to honor the memories of these selfless officers who died in the country's service. Second, it offers us the chance to share their stories and sacrifices with our youth. Also, their tales of bravery will instill the spirit of patriotism in our younger generation.
So, they will grow up protecting and improving the legacy left behind. It's a fact—a country without its history is a lost nation. Last, Memorial Day serves as a special day for sharing the bereaved families' pain, grief, and sorrow.
This act of empathy reminds the families that their loved ones aren't forgotten. Also, it's a clear testament that their contribution towards America's freedom is highly appreciated.
Do You Say Happy Memorial Day?
Is it appropriate to say—Happy Memorial Day? Well, this expression has divided opinions among Americans. Why should a day of loss, grief, horror, and mourning be labeled a "happy day?" This is the concern of the first school of thought.
They feel those who use the expression are insensitive to the plight of those who lost their loved ones. But, again, they believe such people have lost the true meaning of the holiday. For instance, we can recount the pain of Jennie Haskamp, a veteran corps.
In in the year 2015, she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, stating: "I'm frustrated by people all over the country who view the day as anything but a day to remember our WAR DEAD."
She continued, "I hate hearing 'Happy Memorial Day,' I want to see people besides the small percentage of us who are veterans, known veterans, love veterans, or lost veterans, understand what the day is about. It's the one day on the American calendar meant to exemplify what it costs to be American and to be free."
While this sentiment holds dear to some Americans, others think Happy Memorial Day is appropriate. They feel the expression is a passionate way of showing gratitude. Also, they affirm that gratitude could be for the freedom that America is enjoying.
To support this argument, we can recall Ken Harbaugh, a relative of combat veterans. In 2015, he wrote in an op-ed in the Observer. He stated he had no issue with the phrase—Happy Memorial Day. His reason is simple—he doesn't think the day should be about unrelenting grief.
However, he quickly agreed that the event had lost its significance for several people. Well, these sides of the same coin resonate with all Americans. Now, the ultimate choice is for you to make.
The Key Difference Between Veterans Day And Memorial Day
Veterans Day and Memorial Day are two US holidays that honor American military officers. However, it's amazing how some Americans can't notice their subtle difference. So, with this difficulty, they end up using them interchangeably.
Reserved for the last Monday of May, Memorial Day honors the officers who died serving the country. In contrast, Veterans Day is marked on November 11, honoring all military officers—either wartime or peacetime.
So, Veterans Day pays homage to both the living and dead military officers who served.
How to Sincerely Honor Memorial Day
Americans always look up to Memorial Day. It's a unique day set aside for us to remember the officers who sacrificed their lives safeguarding our country. Yet, some Americans forget to honor this event appropriately. Instead, they rather get busy with beaches, pools, and barbecues.
These activities defeat the real purpose and observance of the day. To pay our heartfelt tribute to the officers who sacrificed and shed their blood for the nation, we must do the following:
- March in a parade
- Wear a red poppy, a unique flower
- Watch the National Memorial Day Concert
- Put flags or flowers on graves of people who served in wars
- Fly the country's flag at half-mast until noon
- Visits monuments dedicated to soldiers, sailors, and mariners
- Take part in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm local time, etc.
As a Federal holiday, Memorial Day is marked with political presence. Here, the sitting president or his vice gives a speech in memory of the lost souls. Then, again, the president or his vice lay a wreath on a grave at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Some Interesting Facts About Memorial Day
- Initially, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day
- General John Logan picked May 30 because flowers are in bloom
- The US Congress declared Memorial Day a holiday in 1971
- Waterloo, New York, was chosen as the official birthplace of Memorial Day
- The official observance date for Memorial Day is the last Monday in May
- Citizens mark the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm
- General John Logan might have taken inspiration from a practice in the South
- Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day
- Wreaths, flags, and flowers are used to decorate the graves.
- A poem about World War I inspired the wearing of the red poppy.
My Final Thoughts On Memorial Day
Memorial Day is an American holiday that pays homage to soldiers who died while serving the country. Originally, it was reserved to honor the officers who died during the Civil War. But today, it pays tribute to all soldiers who died in any war.
In the year 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, giving it legal backing. However, it became fully operational in 1971. Finally, the last Monday in May became its official status. Before this day, Americans marked the solemn event as Decorative Day.
The celebration traces its origin to the post-Civil war. Yet, there are records of the practice predating this war. For instance, the US Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes about twenty-five of such events. Here, people decorate graves with flags, wreaths, and flowers.
On May 5, 1966, an organization of Union Veterans formed Decoration Day. It aimed to decorate the tombs of fallen soldiers with flowers. To reserve a day, General John Logan declared the event to be observed on May 30.
Americans held the maiden edition at Arlington National Cemetery. Interestingly, this event lasted from May 30, 1868, until 1970. Finally, in 1971, it became Memorial Day. And Congress changed its observance to the last Monday in May.