The Coolers and luggage bags being packed, families all over this great country piling in cars. Heading for the closest beaches to celebrate an extended weekend and what most see as “Summers official kickoff”. What most tend to forget, is that this “official kickoff” of the summer, is actually a remembrance and dedication to fallen soldiers of this great country who’ve laid their lives on the line for the freedom we take for granted.
On May 30th, 1868, the very first Memorial Day (then considered “Decoration Day). General James Garfield stood on the grounds of Arlington national cemetery and spoke these words to a crowd of 5,000:
“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. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
General Garfield praised these men who laid their lives on the line and paid the ultimate price in that civil war. He spoke beautiful words, in honor of them and paying homage to their sacrifice, because these men paid the ultimate price for this great country we live in today!
Then “Decoration Day”, meant a day of remembrance, a day to pay respects to the men who unselfishly gave their lives fighting for freedom, that very freedom that we hold dear, some 148 years later. Since the very first Decoration Day (Memorial Day), there have been World Wars, Vietnam War, wars on terror, etc… There has also been many changes. Changes to this country, changes in time, and sadly the way we as a country, view what’s now today considered Memorial Day.
The first widely publicized Memorial Day was held on May 1st, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Together with teachers and residents, African American citizens of Charleston organized a “May Day” ceremony. Nearly 10,000 people gathered to celebrate the fallen soldiers. The day was described as follows:
“This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution”
Then in the North, copying a practice that began in the south. General John A Logan, issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide. It was granted and observed, for the first time that year. According to the White House, the date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom.
Today, Americans have many ways of celebrating Memorial Day. Rolling Thunder is a United States advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for POW MIA service members for all U.S. wars. Their main annual event occurs on the Sunday before Memorial Day, in which members make a slow ride on a dedicated, closed off, pre-set route, called Ride to the Wall in Washington D.C., referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, also called the Ride for Freedom, which leaves the Pentagon parking lot at noon, crosses the Memorial Bridge, and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Others will join together at National Cemeteries to praise their fallen fellow Americans by still placing flowers on graves. The President of the United States will take a reef to the Tomb of Unkown Soldiers and address the crowd gathered. The American flag will be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of this nations battle heroes.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Memorial Day (Decoration Day). Whether it be at home with a barbeque, or at the beach with your family and friends. Let us not forget the great men and women who sacrificed their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice for US as Americans, so that we can live a life of happiness and freedom today.
Happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all service men and women, past and present!