What Is Memorial Day All About?
Here in West Texas we celebrate Memorial Day with barbecues, swimming, picnics, boating and more.
But, thanks to History.com, here are some things you may not have known about Memorial Day.
The first commemorative events for Memorial Day were held in the late 1800's. But honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years.
One of the first known public tributes to war dead was in 431 B.C., when the Athenian general and statesman Pericles delivered a funeral oration praising the sacrifice and valor of those killed in the Peloponnesian War—a speech that some have compared in tone to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
One of the earliest commemorations was organized by recently freed slaves.
The holiday’s “founder” had a long and distinguished career.
In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, though some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom. When he died, Logan’s body laid in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, making him one of just 33 people to have received the honor.
It didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971. American’s embraced the notion of “Decoration Day” immediately. That first year, more than 27 states held some sort of ceremony, with more than 5,000 people in attendance at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890, every former state of the Union had adopted it as an official holiday. But for more than 50 years, the holiday was used to commemorate those killed just in the Civil War, not in any other American conflict. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars, and Memorial Day was not officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s, with America deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War.