May 30th, 1868 was the first official observance of Memorial Day. General John Logan was the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. This first official observance was marked by the decorating of the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on a separate day until after World War I , when the holiday was changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday of May. This was an act passed by Congress to ensure a three day weekend for those employed by the federal government.
To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on December 2000 which asks that at 3PM local time, all Americans voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from their activities to observe a moment of silence or listen to Taps.
I like to remember our own personal observances through the years of Memorial Day. In the 60′ and 70’s my family would all gather at the farm of my grandparents, Kenneth and Grace Pierpont and spend the day preparing a family picnic. It was a wonderful time to be with our family, play games and eat burgers and potato salad.
There were others, the grown ups as we called them that would likely be more serious in their observance and I’m sure did the decorating of the graves. Hense the term, Decoration Day. I however, was lost in the folly of childhood and gave little notice to the real meaning of our gathering. It wasn’t until I was a little older, like 30 years older and had young sons who took up the challenge to serve their country that the day became a serious observance.
A few years ago when one of our boys was away at boot camp and the other was on the other side of the world in Iraq that our family went to the ball field to watch another of their brothers play ball. The games would always begin with someone playing our National Anthem over the loud speakers and everyone would stand to salute our flag. I believe that was when it truly struck me with such force. I was a little embarrassed that I was overcome and tearful with patriotism and gratitude that I live in such a special place. I thought about the men through the years in my own family that had served their country.
I look forward to seeing my children Monday. I am grateful that I will see some of my grandchildren. I will enjoy the cookouts and the games and the special things we do. I am thinking now how I will cry for those fallen as I hang our country’s flag on the porch. I will be praying this weekend too for all those who are serving our country right now to protect us and protect those who can not protect themselves. I will also pray for the families who will be seeing their Memorial Day this year in a whole new light – morning the loss of their son’s and daughters.