Memorial Day 2021

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What Memorial Day is

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2021 will occur on Monday, May 31.  Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

Early Observances of Memorial Day

The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.

By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

It is unclear where exactly this tradition originated; numerous different communities may have independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Decoration Day

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.

Many Northern states held similar commemorative events and reprised the tradition in subsequent years; by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor the fallen soldiers on separate days until after World War I.

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

We should never forget why we celebrate Memorial Day in the first place. It’s a holiday to commemorate the military who have served us courageously so that we can live our comfortable lives in America. You can still have your fun along with hot dogs and burgers at your cookout.

You can honor these brave soldiers by doing any of these things on Memorial Day weekend:

1. Visit a Civil War Battlefield

There are plenty of former battlefields from wars such as the more well-known: Bull Run / Manassas, Chickamauga, Harper’s Ferry, Shiloh, Charleston Harbor, Petersburg, Chattanooga, Vicksburg, Antietam (Sharpsburg), Gettysburg. You can easily do an Internet search on any of these top Civil War battlefields.

If you’re not near a battlefield area, you may want to watch a great Memorial Day movie such as: Patton (1970), Megan Leavey (2017), D-Day (2004), American Sniper (2014),Top Gun (1986), Apocalypse Now (1979), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Hurt Locker (2008), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Longest Day (1962), Black Hawk Down (2001), Full Metal Jacket (1987), The Thin Red Line (1998), The Deer Hunter (1978), Ride with the Devil (1999), Cold Mountain (2003), Gettysburg (1993), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Glory (1989), Lincoln (2012), Gone with the Wind (1939).

Confederate Memorial Day

The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The last land battle was in Texas on May 12-13 near Brownsville (The Battle of Palmito Ranch). The last cease-fire was signed at Fort Towson, Oklahoma, on June 23, 1865, although the naval forces on the CSS Shenandoah did not surrender until November 4, 1865 in Liverpool, Great Britain. It is estimated that more than 600,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War and about 260,000 of these were Confederates. In addition, an unknown number of civilians died in the hostilities.

Those who died fighting for the Confederate States during the American Civil War are remembered on other dates in some states. In Arkansas and Texas, there are joint celebrations of the birthdays of General Robert E. Lee, a commander in the Confederate army, and Martin Luther King Jr., an African American civil rights leader, on the third Monday in January. In Texas, this is currently known as Confederate Heroes’ Day. In Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America, on June 3, 1808, is observed.

In North and South Carolina, May 10 marks the anniversaries of the death of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson in 1863, and the capture of Jefferson Davis in 1865. In Pennsylvania, the organization known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans commemorates those who died while fighting for the Confederates. In Virginia, the lives of Confederate soldiers are honored on Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. Confederate Memorial Day was first observed in a number of areas in or just after 1866.

As of this 2021, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina are the only states to recognize Confederate Memorial Day as an official holiday.  Texas and Tennessee both commemorate Confederate Memorial Day, but it is not an official holiday in those states.

2. Tune in to a Memorial Day Concert

Every year, networks such as NPR and PBS will broadcast the Memorial Day concert near the US Capitol. Although the concert includes a lot of music, it pays tribute to the men and women who have fallen but fought valiantly to help make our country what it is today.

3. Attend a Memorial Day Parade

There are parades where you’ll find veterans marching to show off their pride. Take your children and have a great time with the veterans.

4. Take Part in a Memorial Service

Veterans will usually plan memorial service events for other veterans’ families, friends, and the general public during this holiday. Also, most churches during their Sunday services will honor those in the armed forces who are serving or who have served our country as well as who have died for our country.

5. Raise an American Flag

One easy way to show your respect for veterans is to raise your American flag. This flag symbolizes what they have fought to maintain and earn our freedom. The flag should stay in half past noon position since it’s the tradition.

6. Visit a Veteran’s Home

Following the great Civil War, there was a substantial quantity of disabled and incapable veterans unable to make it back to their jobs or couldn’t take care of themselves due to their health condition. During 1864, veteran homes began opening up, and many veterans have flocked there since. Given what they have done for our country, it’s the least that we can do. Talk with a veteran for a few hours and have your children say hi. Appreciate the work that they’ve done for our country. Bring some food or goodies such as cookies to show your appreciation for them. Make sure you let them know that they are not forgotten.

7. Share a Picture of a Fallen Military Personnel or Solder on Social Media

Share a picture on social media of a veteran you either know or a story you’ve heard to help their legacy live on. Memorial Day is for remembering these soldiers who have helped our country.

8. Go to a Nearby Veteran’s Cemetery

Typically graves are maintained by a veteran’s family members. However, if they no longer have living relatives, then the burden is taken by various veteran groups in the local area. Help them out by dropping in with some fresh flowers to beautify their graves.

9. Hoist an MIA or POW Flag

Try to raise the POW or MIA flag as this serves as a reminder about the sacrifices of these soldiers and the loss of their family members. According to Department of Defense, there are a whopping 83,000 Americans who have fallen or went missing from the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, World War II, and the 1991 Gulf War.

10. Have a Moment of Silence/Prayer

Sadly, most people use Memorial Day as a way to get drunk and eat burgers. However, in 2000, Congress passed an act called the National Moment of Remembrance. With this act, it helps to honor troops. On Memorial Day at 3 p.m. all Americans need to  pause and think about the fallen soldiers.  Also, if you can, support your local veteran groups.

The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

These two holidays both recognize the importance of military service, and they both honor the sacrifices made by active duty, Guard, Reserve troops, and family members. But these two holidays are separate and distinct; there are good reasons why both are observed each year.

Aside from their different histories, origins, and intentions, the biggest difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is who each observance is for:

Memorial Day is, as the name implies, a time to pay respect and honor those who have died either while serving their country, as a result of military service, or after they have finished serving as a retired or separated veteran.

Veterans Day honors those who have served in the past, present, and even pays tribute to those who will serve in the future.

When They’re Observed

Memorial Day: The last Monday of May

Veterans Day: November 11 of each year

Moment of Silences

Memorial Day: The National Moment of Remembrance is an annual event that asks Americans to pause for a moment of silence for a minute at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day. The 3 pm time was chosen, because it is the time when many Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday. It is intended to be a unifying act of remembrance for Americans of all ages.

Veterans Day: The Veterans Day Moment of Silence calls on all Americans to observe two minutes of silence beginning at 3:11 pm Atlantic standard time, in honor of the service and sacrifice of veterans throughout the history of the nation. The 3:11 pm time was chosen because in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I.

The National Moment of Remembrance Act became law in the year 2000.

The Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act become law in the year 2016.

Armed Forces Day

Another holiday honoring members of the military is Armed Forces Day. Celebrated the third Saturday in May, this day is a joint celebration of all six branches of the U.S. military: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and the newly created Space Force. The day honors all people currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. This includes the men and women who have served or are serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard, including the National Guard and Reserve components.

The Poppy as a Symbol of Memorial Day

In the war-torn battlefields of Europe, the common red field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was one of the first plants to reappear. Its seeds scattered in the wind and sat dormant in the ground, only germinating when the ground was disturbed—as it was by the very brutal fighting of World War 1.

John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and physician, witnessed the war first hand and was inspired to write the now-famous poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915.  He saw the poppies scattered throughout the battlefield surrounding his artillery position in Belgium.

The Poppy Lady

In November 1918, days before the official end of the war, an American professor named Moina Michael wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” which was inspired by McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” In her poem she mentioned wearing the “poppy red” to honor the dead, and with that, the tradition of adorning one’s clothing with a single red poppy in remembrance of those killed in the Great War (World War I) was born. Moina herself came to be known – and honored – as “The Poppy Lady.”

The Poppy spreads Abroad

The wearing of the poppy was traditionally done on Memorial Day in the United States, but the symbolism has evolved to encompass all veterans living and deceased, so poppies may be worn on Veterans Day as well. Not long after the custom began, it was adopted by other Allied nations, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where it is still popular today. In these countries, the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day (November 11).

Today, poppies are not only a symbol of loss of life, but also of recovery and new life, especially in support of the servicemen who survived the war but suffered from physical and psychological injuries long after it ended.

Memorial Day Weekend: The unofficial start of Summer

Memorial Day tends to mark the unofficial start of summer for many Americans (though the season really begins with the Summer Solstice on Sunday, June 20 at 11:32 P.M. EDT).

Memorial Day Travel

According to AAA, nearly 43 million Americans are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend for their first vacation of season.

If you’re looking to get outdoors this Memorial Day weekend, AAA suggests the worst time to travel is late afternoons of both Thursday and Friday (4:45-6:00 PM). Commuters and vacationers will be getting a head start on the three-day holiday weekend.

Overall, the best time to travel will be just after the morning commute or after the evening commute, when most people will either be at work or already settled at their destination. So, plan accordingly!

In Conclusion

In remembering the fallen, we also honor their loved ones: spouses, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends. There really aren’t proper words to express to someone who has lost someone during their service in the armed forces, but we do live in gratitude each and every day for the precious gift that they have given to us which is a unique kind of freedom not known to other countries on this earth. May God protect us against our enemies both internally and externally.

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