To most of us Memorial Day weekend is just an opportunity to spend three-days lazing around the pool making plans for the upcoming summer vacation, or hitting the malls looking for bargains. Hence it is often easy to forget the real significance of this holiday - A day to honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives whilst serving in our armed forces.
Started by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic as a way to unite the country following the Civil War, Memorial Day was first observed on May 30th, 1868, by simply placing flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington's National Cemetery.
By 1890, all the Northern States began to observe Memorial Day. However, the states in the south refused to join in, and instead chose other days to honor their fallen heroes. Though they finally succumbed after World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring those who had died in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war, some Southern States also set aside an additional day to honor those soldiers that lost their lives in the Confederate war.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and moved from May 30th to the last Monday of May, so that Americans could enjoy a three-day weekend. Though having an extra holiday is a great idea, the significance of the day has been somewhat diminished. Kids think of it as holiday that marks the 'beginning of summer' or the 'first day when swimming pools open', while adults, fret about their barbeque parties.
To try revive the significance, a humanitarian organization in Washington D.C. came up with the idea of a 'National Moment of Remembrance', which asks every American to observe a minute of silence at 3.00 pm (local time) to honor our heroes - The least we can do, in return for the ultimate sacrifice that the soldiers made for us.
So on this Memorial Day, as you chow down on your burgers and slurp on your root beer floats, do take a minute to reflect on all those brave men and women who gave up their lives for our nation and allowed you this freedom.
Happy Memorial Day!