The history and the true meaning of Memorial Day
As Memorial Day is upon us, I would like to share with you a brief history on how this holiday came about and the true meaning of why we celebrate it.
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day.” It was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11.
“The 30th of May is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.
The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. The holiday was changed to Memorial Day within 20 years, becoming a holiday dedicated to the memory of all war dead. It became a federal holiday in 1971, and is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day has come to signify the start of summer for many Americans and is often celebrated with cookouts, family get-togethers, road races and concerts. But the real meaning of Memorial Day has, for too many Americans, been lost in all the hype in newspaper and television ads about sales on cars, furniture, vacations, and so on. The real reason it was created was as an occasion to honor those who paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom. It is our opportunity to stop and give thanks for the many that have died protecting that freedom.
America’s brave men and women have represented the history and the core values of our nation since the fight for independence began. Each person who dies during those conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each death was a loss to a community and the nation. Each life contributed something of beauty and truth to the world that could be represented by no other. We must remember — we must never forget — all the sacrifices that these brave men and women have made, so that we could live in freedom.
Memorial Day, though it may be a day that brings back painful memories, is an important day to remember the significant details about those we have loved who have died in defense of our great nation. It is their sacrifice that makes our nation great, and it is their willingness to sacrifice that raises up the dignity of all humanity. They remain in our memory, they remain in our hearts, and we remain forever in their debt.
This is the true meaning of Memorial Day. We can enjoy our cookouts and family get-togethers, but first let’s remember those for whom this holiday was created. In the City of Leominster, we do remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and as the city’s motto states: “We must, we can, and we will be free.”