Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Nonchalant Observance of Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo is in the Public Domain)

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May and is usually celebrated with the first picnic or BBQ of the summer, often neglecting or forgetting the real reason for the holiday. However, there are still many small towns and cities across the country that have local parades to honor those who gave their lives in military service, and fly the United States flag in profusion up and down the streets.

The small front yard of our county courthouse is stacked with rows and rows of American flags, each with a cross bearing the name, unit and date of a man or woman who died in service. We also have a parade.

Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of ALL U.S. military veterans, living or dead.


On Memorial Day the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.

The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Recent History

On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years.

The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:
"Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."

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