Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Every year, people confuse the meaning and significance of Memorial Day with other veteran and patriotic holidays, especially Veterans Day and Armed Service Day. Each of these holidays honor the military, but not in the same way.

The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is sometimes confused as a veterans holiday. It is actually a day set aside to commemorate Continental Congress formally adopting the Declaration of Independence, the political separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain.

Memorial Day Monday is designated to honor those who died in service to our county. It is a day we honor those who served in the United States military and never came home. Veterans Day honors all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. And Armed Forces day honors those currently serving.

Memorial Day actually stems back to the post-Civil War era. It was originally known as Decoration Day. There are several cities who have claimed the origin of Memorial Day, however, historical records support a claim to the holiday in Columbus, Georgia.

According to the historical marker titled “Origin of Memorial Day,” Mrs. Charles J. (Mary Ann) Williams, a member of The Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia, composed a letter on March 10, 1866 that was printed in newspapers throughout Georgia and across the South urging the adoption of the holiday.

The letter proposed the South set one day aside each year to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers, Union and Confederate, with flowers.

The first national observance was held May 30, 1868.

The World Wars turned Decoration Day it into a remembrance for all members of the U.S. military who fought and died in service. And in 1971, Congress standardized the holiday as “Memorial Day” and changed its observance to the last Monday in May.

For those that don’t know the ‘why,’ red poppies are often worn on Memorial Day in remembrance of those fallen in war, a tradition that began with the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields.”

Today, for many, Memorial Day weekend signifies the beginning of summer. Many cemeteries utilize Memorial Day weekend as a cemetery reunion, cleanup day or homecoming service for families with loved ones buried there. These was not the intention of the holiday, and while it is fine for you to use the day for those activities, Memorial Day was created to honor all of the soldiers who sacrificed everything in service to our country.

This year, we hope you and your families will take time to remember and reflect with gratitude about our fallen soldiers, the brave men and women who gave their lives fighting to preserve our freedoms. And we challenge you to honor fallen soldiers in your family cemetery with flags and/or flowers. In the words of Sgt. Major Bill Paxton, “May we never forget our fallen comrades. Freedom isn’t free.”

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