Memorial Day origin, meaning have become clouded with time - Tucson News Now

Memorial Day origin, meaning have become clouded with time

The poppy became associated with Memorial Day because of the poem "In Flanders Fields," which includes the line "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Sarunis Burdules) The poppy became associated with Memorial Day because of the poem "In Flanders Fields," which includes the line "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Sarunis Burdules)
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(RNN) - The original, somber meaning of Memorial Day has been lost over the years. It was established as a remembrance of American military members who died in service of the country.

But many Americans regard it as "the unofficial beginning of summer" and spend the long weekend engaging in barbecues, swimming and other summertime activities.

The holiday's origins have also become muddled with time.

More than two dozen American towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, which was decreed by the National Holiday Act of 1971 to be celebrated on the last Monday in May each year.

President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 declared Waterloo, NY, to be the birthplace of the holiday, but celebrations and memorials occurred nationwide after the Civil War in many locations. There is evidence Southern women organized to decorate the graves of the fallen before the war ended. The holiday was originally called "Decoration Day."

One of the earliest recorded celebrations occurred in Charleston, SC, where freed slaves, teachers and missionaries gathered on May 1, 1865, to honor Union soldiers who had been captured and held at the Charleston Race Course. The prisoners there died in captivity and were buried in unmarked graves.

The celebration in Waterloo began in summer of that same year and was fully organized by 1866, with the help of residents and veterans, into a formal celebration.

Memorial Day was officially established in 1868 by Gen. John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and celebrated on May 30 of that year. Flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

New York was the first state to adopt the holiday in 1873, and by the 1890s it was recognized in all the Northern states, though the South refused to acknowledge the day. Southern states maintained their own Confederate Memorial Day until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor the dead of all U.S. wars instead of just the Civil War.

The poppy became associated with the holiday in 1915. Moina Belle Michael, inspired by the John McCrae poem In Flanders Fields, wrote her own poem called We Shall Keep the Faith. She came up with the idea to wear red poppies in commemoration of the day. The tradition spread to other countries as well, and Michael was honored in 1948 by the U.S. Post Office with a stamp with her likeness on it.

In 2000, the White House issued a resolution signed by President Bill Clinton urging all Americans  to pause at 3 p.m. Memorial Day for a moment for reflection and respect to honor those who died.

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