Memorial Day, which will be celebrated on Monday, May 27, 2019, is considered by many Americans as the unofficial start of summer. For some, that means kick-starting the warm season with a three-day getaway; for others, it is a day to host barbecues or lounge by the pool with family and friends. Though these are great ways to celebrate the holiday, what often gets forgotten is its real purpose — to honor and remember the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives to defend America's freedom.
Though they both pay tribute to American soldiers, Memorial Day is distinct from Veterans Day, which is celebrated annually on November 11. The former honors those who died in the line of duty, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US military personnel, living or dead.
Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868 by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army — a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, and U.S. Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. Logan, who called it “Decoration Day,” believed setting aside a special day to commemorate the nation's fallen heroes would help heal the rift between citizens of the Northern and Southern States who were still recovering from the American Civil War (1861-1865). Logan and 5,000 other participants marked the day by placing flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Though all Northern States had adopted the holiday by 1890, officials of the Southern States continued to honor their Civil War heroes on different days. It was only after the purpose of Decoration Day was extended to include the American lives lost in World War I (Jul 28, 1914 – Nov 11, 1918) that the holiday became recognized across the US. Many Southern States, however, continue to celebrate Confederate Heroes Day as well, in honor of their American Civil War soldiers.
In 1968, the US Congress declared Memorial Day, as it was now called, a federal holiday and moved the date to the last Monday of May. While this allows Americans to enjoy a three-day weekend, the holiday’s true significance has been somewhat diminished in the minds of the American public. To remind residents of the holiday’s solemn purpose, former US president Bill Clinton passed The National Moment of Remembrance Act in December 2000. The law urges Americans to observe a minute of silence at 3:00 pm (local time) to honor the nation's fallen heroes. So this Memorial Day, take a break from whatever fun activities you are engaged in and pay your respects to the brave American men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the safety and freedom of our country.