It’s America’s most solemn holiday established initially as Decoration Day by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in May 1868. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan decreed that May 30 should become Decoration Day, a national day to commemorate the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. It is widely believed the date of May 30 was chosen to ensure flowers would be in bloom countrywide and available to decorate graves.
By 1890 every state had adopted Decoration Day as an official holiday. However, not until the United States entered World War I were soldiers from conflicts other than the Civil War commemorated on May 30.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 created a three-day weekend that put major holidays, including Memorial Day, on specific Mondays to give federal employees three-day weekends. The act also codified the term Memorial Day into law.
Some believe the solemnity of the day began eroding once it became part of a three-day weekend. Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced bills in every session of Congress from 1987 until his death in 2012, that would move Memorial Day back to May 30.
“In our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer,” Inouye had said.
Interestingly, the change of the holiday to the last Monday in May came well after President Grover Cleveland went fishing on the May 30 day in 1888 (sealing his reelection loss according to some) and decades before the first Indianapolis 500 held on May 30, 1911.
For those who have served, currently serve or have friends and family who serve or previously served, Memorial Day is a deeply personal day. If you haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one or fellow soldier felled while serving our country, we share a different frame of reference. It’s those different experiences, though, that make our country stronger.
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s official statement regarding the Uniform Monday Holiday Act upon signing into law states, “This will mean a great deal to our families and our children. It will enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together. Americans will be able to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours. They will be able to participate in a wider range of recreational and cultural activities.”
To ensure our fallen heroes are never forgotten, Congress in 2000 passed and, President Bill Clinton signed into law, the National Moment of Remembrance Act, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The National Moment of Remembrance encourages Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to honor and remember those who died in service to our country. Carmella LaSpada, founder of Moment of Remembrance, says, “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
No matter how you spend your upcoming holiday weekend, I urge you to pause on Monday, May 30 at 3 p.m. to honor the fallen who put country and freedom above self.