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Memorial Day is a US Federal Holiday.  It occurs every year on the final Monday of May.  All my childhood, it was the 30th of May, regardless of the day of the week.  The federal government changed it with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, back when Nixon was president.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the War Between the States to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It unofficially marks the beginning of the summer vacation season.

Memorial Day 2013

The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers dates back to ancient history.

Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the Civil War. The American Cemetery Movement of the early 19th Century played a large part.

There is a claim dating back to 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861. Warrenton claims the first Memorial Day occurred there.

There are other claims as well.  Authentic documentation tells us that women in Savannah, GA decorated soldiers’ graves in 1862.

In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, PA claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. So, of course, Boalsburg claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.

As with anything, Memorial Day has become a day of eating, drinking, partying, shopping, sale hunting, and family fun.  That’s ok, but we mustn’t lose the real purpose.

Too many men and women – literally millions – died in too many wars to keep us the great free nation we are today.  Let’s not forget them.

So, while you’re at the cemetery decorating the graves of your loved ones, look for the bronze plaques denoting the resting place of a fallen soldier and place a flower or a flag in memory of them as well.

Vietnam Grave Marker

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